When you think of pesto, you probably think of a basil-heavy green sauce made with pine nuts and garlic. This is indeed a pesto, and it is probably the most common type of pesto out there. What you might not know is that these ingredients do not define “pesto.” The name “pesto” means “to crush” and it refers to the fact that nuts, herbs and spices are ground up (often with a mortar and pestle) to make a sauce. You can use all kinds of different ingredients to make a flavorful pesto sauce to top off pasta, pork, chicken or even to simply serve with crostini as a snack.
This particular pesto uses walnuts where other pestos might use pine nuts. Walnuts are a good choice for a pesto because they have a slightly sweet, nutty taste to them ( I find pine nuts often to be on the bitter side) and a really nice buttery flavor that melds well with the olive oil in the pesto. The walnuts are combined with a sharp, dry cheddar
as well as shallots, salt, pepper, vinegar, mustard and olive oil. Don’t use a yellow cheddar for this pesto, as it has the wrong texture and flavor. If you can’t find a good dry, white cheddar, use a harder cheese like Parmesan instead and you’ll still get great results. The pesto is the walnut-colored mixture pictured below, with some basil pesto for contrast.
Walnut Cheddar Pesto
Recipe from Chef Michael Touhy of Grange Restaurant, Sacramento, CA
1 3/4 ups walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 tbsp finely chopped shallots
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar (or sub. Parmesan)
2 tbsp fresh sage
salt and pepper, to taste
Combine all ingredients except for the olive oil in a large mortar and pestle or the bowl of a food processor. Pulse, or grind, to combine. Slowly add oil while pulverizing the nut mixture until pesto comes together into a thick, smooth paste.
Serve immediately with crostini, on meat or on pasta.
Pesto will keep for at least 2-3 weeks in an airtight container in the fridge