Not gonna lie, this pesto isn’t winning any awards for beauty. I mean, it’s mostly pureed mushrooms, and adding fresh green herbs to the blend doesn’t help the color much….BUT….the flavour, the flavour is impeccable. Like walking through a forest after the rain on a cool fall afternoon, or maybe early spring, before most plants have much of a chance to leaf out. It sings of shadows and mystery, robust notes of softly cracking leaves, fallen trees and conifer needles.
14g | 1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
100g | about 1 ¼ cups cremini mushrooms, chopped
60g | about 1 cup shiitake mushrooms, chopped
60g | about ⅓ cup hazelnuts, raw
10g | 1 heaping Tbsp garlic, finely chopped
10g | 1 heaping Tbsp shallots, finely chopped
2g | 2 ½ tsp fresh thyme, finely chopped
2g | 2 ½ tsp fresh italian oregano, finely chopped
4g | 1 ½ Tbsp fresh sweet basil, finely chopped
4g | 1 ½ Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
6g | 2 Tbsp + 1tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
4g | 1 ½ Tbsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
30g/30ml | 2 Tbsp sake (or dry white wine, or dry vermouth)
2g | heaping ¼ tsp salt (if your broth is salty, you can skip this or adjust to taste after blending)
2g | heaping ¾ tsp black pepper, coarsely ground
160g/180ml | 3/4c olive oil
25g | 2 Tbsp solid fat (refined coconut oil or ghee/clarified butter)
4g | 1 ½ tsp mushroom granules (*optional)
30g/ml + 30-60g/ml | 2 Tbsp + 2-4Tbsp Mushroom or vegetable broth (the extra is as needed for blending)
Hydrate porcini in 1 cup lukewarm water for 20-30 minutes, drain and rinse (discard soaking water)
Toast the hazelnuts in a 275F oven for 15-20 minutes, being careful not to scorch them, remove from pan when done and set aside to cool (the nuts should be crunchy and just starting to change color)
Sautee the cremini and shiitake mushrooms in the ghee/coconut oil over medium-high heat until browned and cooked through
Add shallots to pan and cook just until shallots are soft
Remove pan from heat and add sake/wine to pan to help deglaze and set aside to cool
Once hazelnuts have cooled enough to handle, crush them**
Place olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, mushroom granules, and about a third of the hazelnuts into blender, blend on high until smooth and creamy
Add remaining and blend until smooth, adding extra broth as needed to help blend -- this is a very thick pesto and can be hard to blend, it’s fine to add extra broth if you need to
*these add both more intensity to the mushroom flavor and salt, they can be found at most asian markets as "vegetarian/vegetable seasoning" or "mushroom seasoning", look for ones that don't contain any added flavors besides mushroom. You could substitute an equal amount of mushroom bouillon, mushroom powder, or miso [but don't, it won't be as good] **you can crush the hazelnuts with the flat side of your knife, a rolling pin, a pan bottom, whatever works for you. You don’t want to smash them into oblivion, just enough that they’re in about ¼ inch pieces to make blending easier
It’s the concentrated essence of mushrooms, with all their earthy, savory qualities enhanced with fresh herbs and hazelnuts. You really can’t go wrong with a combination like this, and if you’re a true mushroom lover, you’re doing yourself a grand injustice by not making this pronto.
Fresh shiitake and cremini mushrooms provide the body here, full of rich umami goodness, punched up even further by dried porcini, bringing a heady animalistic woodland flavor to the mix. Garlic adds some oomph and a little zest to the blend (they’re added raw and not cooked along with the mushrooms and shallots), speaking of shallots, they bring a nice onion-y sweetness. The herbs here are simply to enhance and elevate the flavors in the mushrooms, not to play a central role as they do in many other pesto recipes, the sage and rosemary are the most prominent, bring strong herbal notes reminiscent of conifer forests and sun baked mountains. Hazelnuts are (hopefully) an obvious choice here, and lightly toasted as well, they meld perfectly with the mushrooms, adding richness and creaminess with their own woodsy, nutty flavor.
You want to get some good color on the cremini and shiitake mushrooms, don’t be afraid of long cooking and developing some fond (the brown bits on the bottom of the pan) just be careful not to burn them, and if they seem to be getting too dry without browning, don’t be afraid to add a dash of water. Once you add the porcini make sure you’re stirring well, they will stick to the pan like crazy if you don’t.
Gnocchi is my first choice for a pasta pairing with this one, it’s just such a lovely and classic combination of flavors, potato, mushroom, sage, and rosemary….it’s like the essence of autumn. Any heavier/thicker/wider pasta would be good though, tagliatelle, rigatoni, fettucine, as well as stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini. But don’t stop there!!! While i might not pick this one for my salad dressing, it is my first grab for grilled cheese, slather a bunch on your bread cover with a mild melty cheese, griddle it up and yummmmmmm….Also, if you freeze some of this, it’s a good quick way to bump up some jarred tomato sauce, toss it with vegges before roasting, really, whenever you want a nice mushroom blast of flavor.