I have loved the pesto for as long as I can remember, but since it has become increasingly difficult to buy a vegetarian equivalent to parmesan, I have been making more and more raw vegan pestos, as inspired by my beautiful friend Giles aka Lakshmi Love/Labyrinth/The Rev, who sadly died last year. He was one of the most peaceful yet strangely wild and wonderful souls i’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting and he taught me how to make a really simple raw basil pesto about five years ago. I’ve been playing with the recipe ever since.
He introduced me to so many wondrous foodie things that I still eat regularly, including drinking raw coconuts and green juices and an array of raw food. Although I never did get around to making raw chocolate with him, his was still the best (by far) i’ve ever tasted, and I have since tasted a fair old few. He used to use fresh red chilli and goji berries in it and I swear it was made by magic. We spent hours un-cooking and cooking in his kitchen in the Wye Valley and it was a really special time in my food journey (which will continue until I drop). I fondly knew this raw-foodie as Rev Rev. An incredibly generous man; the time I was hanging out with him were times of enormous self-discovery for me. He even convinced me to get naked on Christmas Eve and have a naked spring wash in the snow. But that’s another story and perhaps not one for a food blog. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone like him again and I remember him with joy every time I conjure certain recipes, including this pesto…
So, when I was asked to host a family-friendly cooking workshop recently in Cardiff (Shelly Gardens Food Fest by Green City Events) – I knew I had to come up with something quick and simple and ultimately pretty tasty that the kids would like. I invited my friend’s little girl Connie to help me as she’s an 8 year old mega-foodie and asked her what we should cook, she said ‘PESTO’ and I was thrilled. We have been creating pesto together since she was little, so all-in-all I have some mighty fine pesto memories.
The thing I most love about pesto is how versatile it is – that you can use it on pasta, pizzas, potatoes, salads, as a drizzle on soups and a million other combos AND it can be made with vegetarians and vegans in mind.
Ingredients: One large Basil plant/two bunches (the large size you would buy in a supermarket or farmers market), Juice of one lemon, 1/2 small packet of pine nuts and 1/2 packet of hazelnuts/rock salt and pepper, lots of olive oil (or a bit less if you’re trying to cut down slightly on fats) and some hidden spinach for extra goodness.
Method: literally whack all of these ingredients into a blender or a pestle and mortar until it gets to a consistency you like.
Sweet – To sweeten this slightly for little-uns, use some agave syrup/nectar or Rock’s type apple cordial.
Nuts and Herbs – You can try this recipe with any number of herb and nut alternatives. Wild garlic is my current favourite, but you can use fresh oregano, parsley, coriander, mint, spinach or rocket. Walnuts, sunflower seeds, almonds, hazelnuts and cashews all work for nuttiness. You can toast the nuts or use them raw.
Garlic – I didn’t use garlic in this recipe as I was cooking with kids and I know many who find the taste too strong, but you can knock yourself out and add as much as you like. I would add one clove to this quantity.
A drizzle or a dollop? If you want a drizzle, you’ll need to add much more olive oil or use less for a paste/spread which is sticky and clings to pasta. If you’re trying to use less oil, loosen it with a little water if you want it less-thick – but do use some olive oil as it is a wonder oil!
Cheeses – If you want to add cheese, make sure you find a vegetarian hard cheese (Old Winchester from the Fine Cheese Co. in Bath is a lovely substitute) a good Welsh cheddar works wonders or you can crumble some feta on at the end.
In both of the recipes I made at this event, I tried to think with fussy kids in mind (most of the children I know are fairly fussy) so I tried to keep things simple, with some hidden veg tucked in there. I’ll blog the recipe for the sticky tomato and sweet potato sauce we did very soon. I just need to re-create it as it was scoffed so quickly I didn’t manage to get a snap!