By Vida Gustafson

Contributing Writer

By the end of summer, most of us aspiring gardeners have one or two basil plants sitting around getting ready to go to seed. Making a batch of pesto uses up the whole plant, before it dies, in one recipe. It will enrich numerous meals to come with the flavor of high summer and is just excellent kitchen sense. I like to use walnuts in my pesto instead of pine-nuts, because they provide a very pleasant creamy nuttiness and I can find them everywhere on the Central Coast.

If you’ve tried in the past to make pesto at home and have been frustrated with a bitter green mess, fear not! I’ve been in that situation a couple of times and after some research have found the cause, and now we can avoid it. 

Most of our pesto recipes call for extra virgin olive oil and because we love the taste and health benefits, that’s what we put in the food processor, but therein lies the problem. 


EVOO is rather unique (and wonderful) in that it has a high concentration of polyphenols, coated in a fatty acids. These fatty acids are normally only broken down in the digestive system or under high heat. The extreme mechanical agitation of a blender or food processor, so unlike a traditional mortar and pestle, releases the polyphenols and their naturally bitter taste. 

I work around this problem now, by adding a quarter of a cup of sunflower or grapeseed oil to the food processor to get the pesto started and then adding in my extra virgin olive oil very last and stirring it by hand.   


  • 4 C basil (leaves only)
  • ¼ C sunflower oil
  • 1/3 C extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ C walnuts
  • ¼ C aged hard cheese *
  • 1-2 cloves of fresh garlic (to taste)
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp salt

*Use whatever hard cheese is available to you or any favorite of yours. I used a five-year aged gouda, hardly traditional, but with lots of umami depth of flavor. 


In a food processor, combine basil, sunflower oil, salt, pepper, walnuts, cheese, garlic and lemon. Pulse until a thick paste is formed, scraping the sides often. Lastly add your olive oil and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning, remember this is a condiment and should be bold and flavorful! Spread this over a freshly baked pizza, grilled chicken or simply slather a bowl of pasta.