16 June 2010

slinging hash: walnut pesto

When planning menus for dinner parties, I tend to avoid serving the same old thing, and I'm somewhat cavalier about violating that rule about not serving anything you've never made before. 

But when it comes to something to put out with drinks, before dinner, I serve up the equivalent of the missionary position — not bold or inventive, but delicious and eminently satisfying.

For years now, my standard spread includes cornichon, the Union Square Cafe's bar nuts, and olives marinated with lemon and herbs. All are easy, and never disappoint. Until recently, I've never deviated from this roster. A few weeks ago, though, I threw caution to the wind, and made walnut pesto.

Although they're not my favorite nuts to eat out of hand, I really like walnuts in sauces; they add body, and have a pleasantly astringent bitterness. This walnut pesto is composed of nothing more than nuts flavored with garlic, sun-dried tomato and thyme and bound together by oil and sherry vinegar. The sun-dried tomato struck me as perhaps a mistake; I wondered if they would be too sweet, and throw off the balance of flavors. But as this was the first time I was making the recipe, I left them in, and it turns out, they are exactly right; punctuating the soft, sweet nutmeats with a little toothsomeness.

I hadn't eaten any lunch on the day I first made this. As a result I found myself making a second batch before I'd even cleaned the food processor. Which brings me to another good point about walnut pesto; it comes together in a trice. When I served this to guests that evening, we could have happily spent the evening eating this with drinks. 

So far, I've only served this on toasted baguette, but I imagine it making a nice sandwich spread, a sauce for whole wheat pasta, or dressing for green beans or broccoli. 

Walnut Pesto
adapted from smitten kitchen

1 cup shelled walnuts, toasted and cooled
2 tablespoons minced sun-dried tomatoes, oil or dry-packed. (If using dry-packed, soak in boiling water for 5-10 minutes prior to use.) 
1 small clove garlic, peeled and crushed
plucked leaves from 3 sprigs of thyme
salt and pepper 
small splash of sherry vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup parmesan cheese


Coarsely grind walnuts, tomatoes, garlic, and thyme in food processor. Remove to a bowl, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Add a small splash of vinegar. Stir in cheese and oil. 

Slice baguette, and grill or toast under broiler. Top toasts with a spoonful of pesto. 

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