Anyone who knows me knows I love Italy and Italian food. My husband’s family is Italian on his mother’s side. Recently his Italian immigrant great grandparents were honored with a historic plaque at the site of their former farm, now a city park. It was a great time for the family to get together, celebrate Italian heritage, and eat Italian food. Everyone brought snacks and appetizers, and I decided to make this sun dried tomato walnut pesto. This pesto is irresistible! The bold, bright flavors of sun dried tomatoes and fresh herbs perfectly complement the rich, mellow flavors of walnuts and olive oil.
Fortunately for me, one of my favorite grocery stores, Smith’s, was having a Taste of Italy event while I was getting ready to make this pesto. In the gorgeous display of imported Italian ingredients I found Istá sun dried tomatoes and Coltavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil. With the olive oil I got free Pan Ducale crackers, which I knew would be perfect to serve with this pesto.
If you’ve only eaten traditional basil and pine nut pesto, you’re missing out. There’s a whole world of pesto flavors out there for you to try! An imported food store near me sells an amazing tomato hazelnut pesto, but it’s expensive. I wanted to try to replicate that flavor on my own. Plain hazelnuts are not easy to find where I live, but walnuts are perfect in this recipe.
Making the pesto couldn’t be easier. Start by toasting walnut halves in a dry skillet over medium heat. Walnuts are naturally brown, so it’s difficult to see when they are toasted. Use your nose instead. When the walnuts are fragrant and smell toasty, they are ready. This takes about 5 minutes. After the nuts are toasted, remove them from the heat.
Let the nuts cool a little, and then add them to the food processor with the sun dried tomatoes. I used sun dried tomatoes packed in oil. If you want to use dried tomatoes that are not packed in oil, soak them in warm water for 1/2 hour before using them in this recipe. Drain the oil or water from the tomatoes before using.
The tomatoes and walnuts go into a food processor with basil leaves, parsley, Parmesan cheese, garlic, lemon juice, lemon zest, Balsamic vinegar, agave syrup, red pepper flakes, black pepper and salt. Tomatoes will vary in how sweet or acidic they are, so only add half the Balsamic vinegar and half the agave called for in the recipe at first. You can taste and adjust the flavors later.
Process the ingredients for about 30 seconds to chop finely. Add the olive oil and process to the consistency you want, adding more oil if needed. Taste the pesto and adjust the flavors to your liking. You may want to add more tomatoes, Balsamic vinegar or agave syrup.
This pesto was perfect for our family’s Italian celebration, where we ate, laughed, and talked about loved ones who are no longer with us. Just for fun, here’s a photo of the historic plaque:
Sun Dried Tomato Walnut Pesto
- 1 cup walnut halves
- 1 ½ cups sun dried tomatoes packed in oil, drained
- 1 cup basil leaves loosely packed
- ¼ cup parsley leaves loosely packed
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 cloves garlic peeled and roughly chopped
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- 1 tablespoon agave syrup
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. When they are fragrant and slightly browned (about 5 minutes), remove them from the heat and allow to cool.
- Place all the ingredients except the olive oil in a food processor. Use only half the Balsamic vinegar and agave syrup at first. You can taste and adjust ingredients later.
- Process for about 30 seconds or until blended and very finely chopped.
- Add the olive oil, then process for 30 more seconds. Add more olive oil if needed to achieve the desired consistency.
- Taste the pesto, and adjust ingredients as desired. You may need to add more Balsamic vinegar, agave syrup or tomatoes.
- Serve as a dip with crackers, or as a topping for bread, pasta, grilled chicken or vegetables.
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