Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Walnut Pesto

Walnuts are wonderful!

The Coffee & Walnut Cake that I made recently reminded me just how fabulous this gnarly nut is with its complex flavour and slightly bitter undertones. Walnuts can be used very successfully in both sweet and savoury dishes, but are often forgotten especially when battling against the popularity of almonds, hazelnuts and pecans for use in cookery and baking. Well… I love walnuts and have been experimenting with them quite a bit in the past couple of weeks, trying out dishes that are both familiar and also others that are a little bit more unusual! I shall of course post the recipes, once I have perfected them!

I find walnuts impossibly difficult to shell and tend to buy them ready-shelled, so all the hard work is already done. I suggest that you do the same, unless you have an ace nut-cracker and biceps a body-builder would be proud of. You can buy chopped walnuts, but I prefer to chop my own and find that chopped walnuts, as sold, are often a little rancid, so I recommend buying just the amount that you need and using them well before their ‘use-by’ date.
 
I love pickled walnuts – a traditional English pickle - which are made from ‘green’ walnuts (or walnuts that are not fully ripened) and are preserved in a pickling solution which can be sweet or savoury.  A few picked walnuts thrown into a beef stew is a wondrous thing and really adds that little extra ‘something’! Pickled walnuts are popular at Christmas and can be quite easily obtained then, but are regrettably hard enough to get your hands outside of the festive season.
 
I’m not really a chocolate addict and would always prefer to have a slice of cake rather than a chocolate bar if I want to treat myself, but I have always had a really big soft spot for Walnut Whips, made by Nestlé. These are cone-shaped chocolate confections, encasing a vanilla flavoured, airy fondant filling, topped off with a walnut! Sometimes, after removing the packaging I find that the walnut has become dislodged and I have to hunt around in the packet for it… When this happens, as childish as it might sound, I always feel slightly cheated!!!
 
This recipe is incredibly simple, containing relatively few ingredients, but is one that really showcases the flavour of the walnuts and demonstrates their adaptability. Try to get the best ingredients that you can and do use a good virgin olive oil!
 
I used flat leaf parsley, but you could substitute fresh basil or even kale, the superfood du jour, to make the pesto. This is lovely used as an accompaniment to fish such as steamed cod or hake on grilled chicken or as a pasta sauce; it really is very adaptable and can be used in a variety of ways. Any leftover pesto can be stored in a sterilised jar and refrigerated for up to a week – it may lose some of its vibrant colour, but it should still taste lovely.
 

Ingredients:

Large bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley (about 75g-90g picked leaves)
120g walnuts
120ml olive oil
1 clove of garlic
25g freshly grated parmesan (optional)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
 

Method:

1. This is really simple to make; basically put all the ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times until everything is combined. Be careful not to over-process, you don’t want a smooth purée, but rather it should still retain some texture.
2. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary, remembering that if you have included parmesan, it can be quite salty! Serve.
 
Serves 4-6.