The main purpose of this journey of mine into agriculture and food processing is to get closer to the source, to become more involved in all the processes related to food consumption, from growing the produce to harvesting it and transforming it into something edible, hopefully enhancing the natural flavours of the products involved. Sometimes this involves adapting traditional recipes depending on product availability, due to climatic or seasonal or any other factors. And this is how we get to making the fromsoiltosoul version of pesto, a process involving a full day of work, since everything from the nuts to the basil is collected from the field (except the olive oil, which fortunately was bought in, and the parmesan cheese, which was left out since there are vegans on the farm that we have to cater for).
Ripe cashews on the tree, ready for collection.
So, what is pesto? It’s a traditional Italian oil-based sauce that uses nuts, cheese, oil and an herb pulsed together. The traditional version uses pine nuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil and basil, plus some salt for seasoning.
We started by collecting the nuts. It is currently the season for cashews, so it became immediately obvious what we were going to replace the pine nuts with! 🙂 The cashew nuts must be extracted from the comma-like appendage hanging from the bottom of the fruit, with care not to get burned by the acids in the outer skin. One way to do this is by wearing gloves while handling them, cutting them open and carefully peeling off the inner paper-like skin that lines the nuts. This is slow and painstaking work, so we opted for just roasting them directly, which gives off a thick toxic smoke, and when the nuts heat up enough, they burst into flame and spit fire everywhere, the closest thing to a fiery inferno that I’ve ever experienced.
Roasting cashew nuts, the closest I’ve ever come to the fires of hell. 🙂
Volunteer Spencer shelling cacao beans. The shelling of the cashew nuts is similar, but I’ve replaced the photo for this one because it’s the only one I’ve got.
A lovely basil plant as understorey for squash.
So, once the nuts were roasted and shelled, we then picked the basil to add it to the sauce. 2 cups is what the recipe called for. That’s a lot of basil, but luckily the family at La Iguana Chocolate doesn’t like basil, but still has lots of plants of it around the garden! 😀
So, I then toasted some of the nuts over the stove, just to get them warm and get those oils flowing, and blended the nuts, the basil and some lemon juice together in the food processor with some salt and oil.
So, it’s pretty involved, takes a while to do, but the end result is all the more delicious for it! 🙂
The little jar of pesto that lasted about a minute…
Pesto recipe. Here’s the basic recipe that I modified to make the pesto:
1 clove garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
juice of 1/2 lemon, or more as necessary
1/4 cup olive oil, or more as necessary
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt, or more as necessary
In a food processor, pulse garlic and pine nuts with the salt until finely chopped.
Add basil leaves and lemon juice and blend until basil begins to break down. Add olive oil and puree until the mixture is smooth and has the desired consistency, adding more oil if necessary to break down the nuts and herbs.
Fold in the Parmesan and taste for seasoning. Add more salt and lemon juice to taste.