Now, call me crazy, but I think it’s crazy that people would even think about making pesto without garlic (believe me, I’ve seen recipes). And some cheese-eaters (not these ones, necessarily) find it crazy that vegans will still call their dairy-free deliciousness “pesto.” So how do you feel about pesto made without a shred of basil?
Normally I’m a basil pesto kinda gal…although I like it most when the basil plant is taking over its little container in my garden and my pesto becomes nearly free and basil goes on almost everything I make. So when I don’t feel like shelling out $16 a pound on fresh organic basil, I’ll make it out of something else, like arugula, cilantro, or parsley. This past weekend I was helping to host a (vegan) pancake breakfast at a queer art space I’m part of, and my friends and I were discussing hosting more food events when a certain handsomely bearded fellow told me about a pesto party he and his roommates hosted. And about the different kinds of pesto, like butter lettuce pesto. Ever since those three words passed into my ear canal I’ve been dreaming about making it.
While you’ll recognize the garlic and olive oil flavors in this, butter lettuce pesto is distinctly lighter in flavor than its basil-y counterpart. There’s also a sizable risk for pine mouth these days, so I made this with pistachios to carry on the green theme. But it would be yummy with walnuts or almonds, too. It’s great in all the ways you would use a more traditional pesto: on toasted bread or in a sandwich, as part of an appetizer plate with veggies and olives, or tossed with hot or cold pasta, as I chose to do. Many vegan pestos involve nutritional yeast, which you could certainly add if you wanted a cheesier flavor, but I find it’s just fine with that essential squeeze of fresh lemon to make all the flavors pop! and blossom.
Butter Lettuce Pesto
makes about 1 1/2 cups
2-5 cloves garlic, depending on how much you like garlic
a pinch of salt
several grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 cup toasted and cooled pistachios or other nuts
1 head butter lettuce (sometimes called Boston butter lettuce), torn into smaller pieces (about 6 heaping cups)
about 1/4 cup olive oil (more or less depending on how much your lettuce breaks down)
In a food processor, finely chop the garlic and salt and pepper together. Add the nuts and process until fine. Add the butter lettuce in batches small enough to let the leaves get chopped and incorporated, but try not to overprocess into a paste. Then, with the processor running, pour a steady stream of olive oil into the feed chute until a slightly granular sauce forms without any separate oil visible. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to a week.