Avocado Lemon Pesto
I made pesto more times this summer than in all (30) previous years of my life combined.
And no, it’s not because my CSA has been showering me in fresh basil.
On the contrary: the one week the list of items in our CSA box included basil– and I got all excited about it– there were THREE sprigs of basil. I was so disappointed, I actually stopped at a local produce market on my way home just to buy enough additional basil to make pesto.
In retrospect, I don’t know why I assumed it’d be a whole bunch of basil, when if the CSA lists “rosemary” they mean ONE sprig… But one sprig of rosemary can pep up handfuls of chopped roasted potatoes, or a whole loaf of focaccia flatbread. Three sprigs of basil can’t go quite as far.
I guess I could have used them to garnish one big batch of my Lentil Green Bean Salad with Vinaigrette or to sprinkle over the top of a pizza or two, like Grilled Summer Squash Pizza, but I had pesto on my mind.
And not just any pesto; Pesto with lemon.*
If you’ve never squeezed fresh lemon juice into your pesto, then you’re missing out. The lemon tackles the strong, pungent paste and turns it into something lighter, something refreshing; a garlic basil sauce with an addictive tangy zest that will leave your mouth watering for more.
Nearly every batch of pesto I make is just a little different; sometimes I switch out half the basil for spicy arugula, sometimes I use pistachios or walnuts instead of pine nuts… you know the drill. But I always use lemon juice. Even in my Basic Basil Pesto recipe.
This Avocado Lemon Pesto is my favorite version to date.
First, take note: it’s vegan! (…if you want it to be.)
Second, who can resist the creamy boost of avocado that holds it all together and provides a buttery backdrop to the garlic, basil, and black pepper. Pine nuts come along for the ride– for tradition’s sake– while the cashews jump in as a cheesy substitute for (/lovely addition to) grated parmesan.
Third, remember the secret ingredient: chili pepper flakes.
Any pasta can serve as the medium here, whether short or long. (I actually like pesto best with a short curly pasta, called gemelli.)
So if you’re vegan, or just a lover of pesto, pasta, or avocados, enjoy! (And if you’re nervously wracking your brain for what main dish to make for your vegan friends at a dinner party, relax: the search is over.)
* Thank you, Madison Farmers’ Market, for giving me two genius ideas that I’ll never stop coming back to: Lemon Pesto and Cilantro Pesto.
Avocado Lemon Pesto
(Makes 4½ – 5 cups of pesto; Serves up to 6)
~ 4 oz. dry pasta (per person)
~ 1 large ripe avocado
~ 2 medium lemons
~ 3-4 cloves garlic
~ ¼ cup cashews
~ ¼ cup pine nuts
~ 2 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
~ ½ cup olive oil
~ salt, to taste
~ pepper, to taste
~ chili flakes, to taste
~ fresh grated parmesan or asiago, to taste
~ diced tomato or halved cherry tomatoes, to garnish
How to make it:
1. Fill a pot of water for the pasta, and set it to boil.
2. Meanwhile, pulse the garlic, cashews, pine nuts, and (optionally) cheese in a food processor along with half of the lemon juice and just a bit of the olive oil.
3. Halve the avocado, remove the pit, and scoop the flesh into the cuisinart. Blend until smooth, then add the remaining lemon juice and olive oil, and the basil leaves, and blend again. Season with salt, pepper, and chili flakes to taste.
4. Cook the pasta according to package directions. (For each 8 oz. of pasta, which serves 2, I use about one third of this pesto sauce recipe, or 1½ cups. So with this recipe, you can either double or triple that amount of pasta, to serve 4 or 6.)
5. Drain the pasta, and immediately transfer to a serving bowl and spoon over the pesto (¾ cup per person). Stir to coat the pasta with sauce.
6. Serve with a bit of fresh diced tomato or some halved cherry tomatoes, a sprinkle of grated cheese, and some fresh ground black pepper or chili flakes.
Note: You can use an ice cube tray to freeze your extra pesto sauce in small portions!