{Basil} A New Twist on Pesto

{pesto} parts: the secret is in the center

Anyone who lives in and around Saratoga Springs, NY is fully aware of the six weeks during the summer that is known as “Track Season”. From late July through Labor Day weekend, the town and its environs are filled to the brim with tourists. The downtown shopping and food scene, Polo, the Adirondacks, Lake George and the Race Track are all very popular places to visit by the droves of people who continually visit year after year.

How does this relate to “A New Twist on Pesto” you might ask…Well, the picture below is just HALF of the basil plant I got from my neighbor due to track season.

Many year-round folk rent out their apartments, condos, homes to people who flock to our area to enjoy the action. One such person is my neighbor B. He and his roommate T rent out their townhome for the entire season to the same lovely family every year. A day before the big move, B came over while I was playing in our teeny tiny townhome front lawn. While playing with Miles, B offered me a HUGE container filled with basil plants. I mean filled people. He threw an entire bag of seeds into the pot and “poof” a bush-o-basil. I couldn’t  resist the offer. Who would? A gigantic bush of basil…ohh the possibilities.

Over the course of the summer I snipped off the tops, making the plant bushy while also harvesting bits here and there for many raw and cooked meals. But now, at the beginning of September, its time for serious harvest time. After I collected the leaves I decided to breakdown the harvest: 1/8 freeze, 1/8  flavored oil (more on both of these in a future post) and 3/4 pesto madness!

Pesto is tricky due to Miles’ anaphylaxis to dairy and nuts. I’ve been mixing and matching ingredients all summer to make the perfect balance of basil flavor, meaty-nuttiness of pine nuts and umami of parmesan cheese. The answer: a blend of nutritional yeast, sea salt and toasted sesame seeds to substitute the cheese and sunflower seeds for the pine nuts. I should also say up front that I am not a fan of a strong garlic flavor in a pesto. Don’t get me wrong I LOVE me some garlic but in my pesto I want a clean herby, nutty flavor without the bolt of garlic. I should also note that I freeze all of my pesto in ice cube trays. When I’m ready to use, I just throw a cube or two in about 5 minutes from serving. If I’m making pizza, gluten-free of course, I just throw the cubes in a microwave for 30 seconds to achieve a spreadable consistency.

NOTE: Unless otherwise specified my recipes will always be dairy, soy, tree nut, peanut, wheat and gluten-free. Even if you don’t have a food allergic person in your life, mix it up and try my recipes!  You get to try different, possibly-new ingredients and flavor combinations, makes life interesting.

based on every pesto recipe I’ve ever tried

2 heaping cups of basil
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
2 T nutritional yeast, flakes
2 t toasted sesame seeds
1 t sea salt
1/2 olive oil
pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, optional

Equipment needed: food processor and ice cube trays

Add basil and sunflower seeds in your food processor and loosely chop. Add nutritional yeast flakes, sea salt and sesame seeds and a few grinds of black pepper; process until everything is incorporated. While the processor is on, stream in the olive oil. Blend just until oil is incorporated, do not over blend. Taste, add salt and pepper if needed. Spoon pesto into ice cube trays and place in freezer on a flat surface so you don’t end up with oil in your freezer drawer. Once frozen, put cubes in freezer bag and date the bag. I also put the name on the bag because I have various flavors in the freezer, like ramp and spinach-mint pesto.


4 Comments Add yours

  1. Amy H. says:

    Had to laugh because i seriously JUST sat down at the computer after making 12 little jars of pesto for the freezer: all with pine nuts, meaning meals my youngest will NOT be able to eat what we eat all those nights! (He is allergic to peanuts, tree nuts, egg and soy) I really wish i had read this first! I didnt even think of switching out the pine nuts to sunflower seeds ARGH … I will give it a try when i make pesto next (which i hope wont be until early 2011!)

    1. Christina says:

      Amy- Oh yes- give it a try next time. I use sunflower seeds as a nut-substitute for EVERYTHING from quick breads to muffins to pestos. We’re in a VERY similar boat- but switch the egg for dairy. Its very challenging journey. I will be posting a nut-like snack in a few days, probably Tuesday of next week, with dried garbonzo beans in the over tossed with various spices- delish! Miles is going crazy for them….

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