Ottawa Nut Pesto Recipes

These recipes use nuts that grow well in Ottawa, Canada.

The word pesto comes from the Italian pestare, to pound. Anything that tastes good when pounded together with a mortar and pestle can be a pesto, but standard Italian ingredients are fresh herbs, garlic, nuts, cheese and olive oil. They are traditionally tossed with hot pasta, spread on bread, used as a dressing for vegetables, and used as flavouring in soups and stews. Cooks have been known to snitch a spoonful as is - to check the seasoning, of course!

Pine nuts, hazelnuts and walnuts are commonly used in Italy. Their pine nuts come from Swiss stone pines, whose close relative the Korean nut pine grows well and yields good crops in Ottawa. Turkish Tree Hazel grows well here, and substitutes well for the Italian hazelnut. Our black walnut is even tastier than the native walnut of Italy. Butternut, shagbark hickory and American chestnut can be found here as well, although not in Italy. Most nuts have best flavour when lightly roasted. Chestnut must be cooked - see instructions with its recipes.

Never skimp on your olive oil. Buy extra-virgin grade packed in glass in Italy, and keep it in the frig. Fine olive oils vary almost as much as fine wines. Purists remove the stems of their herbs, but using my preparation method, I keep all but the coarsest unless noted. Most Italian cheeses contain enough salt that no additional is needed.

I use my grandmother's hand-cranked meat grinder instead of a traditional marble mortar and pestle. Simply put everything non-liquid through it, including solid cheeses, then cream lightly with a spoon. It gives a really nice texture to everything. Food processors can be used to chop the ingredients separately, but tend to do it unevenly if everything is done together. Blenders only work if the liquid ingredients are added as well and speed is kept low so that everything doesn't just turn to mush. A good pesto is not a purée - ingredient tastes add together separately.

I recommend leaving a pesto for a few hours in the frig for the flavours to blend before checking seasoning. Pesto may be stored in the frig for up to a week, or frozen in serving-sized chunks. (An ice-cube tray is handy for freezing.) Store pesto under a thin layer of oil to reduce browning. The high-oil recipes keep best; those low in oil should only be eaten fresh, tossed with hot pasta. Freezing makes pestos a bit mushy, but the taste is unchanged.

If you have never used a kitchen scale before, making pesto is the way to find out how useful one is. Simply add each ingredient in turn, adding the desired weight to the previous total. And, if you have an electronic scale with a tare button, you don't even need to remember how to add and subtract! Only one dish to clean, and it doesn't matter how wet or dry anything is.

In Ottawa, you can find top quality Italian cheeses at Nicastro's on Merivale Road. St.Laurent Fruit & Vegetables, St.Laurent and Belfast, is an excellent source of fresh herbs. Look for Aquafuchsia brand sprouts, grown just down the river at Rigaud: alfalfa, radish, onion, mustard ... really neat flavours.

John Sankey
other notes on nutrition

Basil Pinenut Pesto
fresh basil leaves2 oz These are traditional proportions from Genoa where, it is claimed, pesto originated. 25 servings
garlic2 cloves
Korean pine nuts1 oz
Parmigiano reggiano cheese3 oz
Pecorino romano cheese1 oz
olive oil8 fl.oz
Dill Lemon Walnut Pesto
dill weed3 oz If you can only get Chinese or Carpathian walnuts, use 3 oz. I trust you know that lemon zest is the finely-cut outer peel - very different from the juice. 15 servings
lemon zest1 lemon
garlic2 cloves
black walnuts2 oz
Romano cheese3 oz
olive oil4 fl.oz
Beet Pepper Walnut Pesto
beets1-1/2 lb Here, the vegetables become the pesto. Vegan, and hot if you use a habanero pepper. (If in doubt as to the strength of your pepper, keep the dose low. You can always make it up after with fine ground black pepper.) Remove stems and leaves from beets, cook until just tender, remove skins. Remove stems from leaves. In a skillet, cook onion and pepper in the olive oil until softened. Add the beet leaves, cover, cook 5 minutes. 15 servings
red onion1
hot pepper1/2 small
black walnuts4 oz
salt1/2 tsp
olive oil3 fl.oz
Tomato Walnut Pesto
sun-dried tomatos3 oz Italian stores sell dried tomatos packed in oil. If you can only find loose packed, steam them for two minutes to soften them. 20 servings
alfalfa sprouts1 oz
garlic3 cloves
black walnuts3 oz
Parmesan cheese2 oz
olive oil4 fl.oz
Rosemary Olive Walnut Pesto
fresh rosemary1/2 oz This says "Mediterranean", loud and clear. 10 servings
fresh parsley1 oz
black olives4 oz
black walnuts2 oz
Romano cheese1 oz
olive oil1 oz
Broccoli Butternut Pesto
broccoli flowers6 oz This is mild-flavoured but very good, as are butternuts. 25 servings
garlic1 clove
butternuts4 oz
Parmesan cheese2 oz
white pepper1/4 tsp
olive oil7 fl.oz
Watercress Dill Hickory Pesto
watercress3 oz This is more traditional than it looks - the oil is in the mayonnaise. Only use shagbark hickory nuts - other hickories are bitter. 7 servings
dill weed1 oz
shagbark hickory nuts2 oz
Romano cheese2 oz
mayonnaise2 oz
Basil Hazelnut Pesto
fresh basil2 oz Wine, although not traditional Italian practice, distributes the flavours differently than oil. 30 servings
fresh parsley1 oz
garlic3 cloves
hazelnuts4 oz
Parmesan cheese4 oz
red wine1 fl.oz
olive oil8 fl.oz
Sage Chestnut Pesto
fresh sage leaves6 This is higher in nuts than traditional recipes, but the taste of chestnuts is worth savouring. To prepare American chestnuts, cut them in half with a strong chef's knife, give them a minute in a microwave, dig out the meats from each half while they are still warm, then simmer the meats in broth about 10 minutes. Unfortunately, chestnuts do not keep well, so much of the year you will have to use canned European chestnut paste - much less taste than our native nut. Sardo is not a traditional pesto cheese, but its soft taste matches chestnuts well. 20 servings
fresh parsley1 oz
lemon juice1 lemon
American chestnuts4 oz
Sardo cheese2 oz
olive oil4 fl.oz
Radish Chestnut Pesto
radish sprouts4 oz Radish sprouts are sold in Ottawa as a Japanese specialty, under the names Kaiware or Daikon. They have a really neat flavour, but if you can't find them substitute parsley plus a pinch or two of white pepper; you will also need a bit more oil. See above for a note on chestnut preparation. 12 servings
garlic1 clove
American chestnuts4 oz
Romano cheese1 oz
olive oil2 fl.oz

If you prefer volume measurements, the following are rough equivalents to one ounce weight:
3/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, lightly pressed down
1/2 cup fresh herbs, firmly packed
1/4 cup nut pieces or pine nuts
1/4 cup pre-grated cheese