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Oregano / Hazelnut Pesto

Hazelnut Oregano Pesto

Elizabeth David tells us (Italian Food) that the people of Genoa, where pesto is thought to have originated, say that a good pesto cannot be made without Genoese basil. So the idea of making pesto without any basil at all is perhaps offensive to Italian purists. But over the last twenty years or so years, as pesto has become a familiar, overused flavoring for everything from grilled chicken to scrambled eggs, we've been building on the original idea of pesto to include any preparation that combines an herb with nuts, garlic, cheese and oil.

A few years ago Elise's brother Joey, stopping for an overnight visit, brought a generous bagful of oregano from his garden. It occurred to me to make pesto with it, with satisfying results. Now we grow our own oregano in an ever-expanding patch in the herb garden and, since the oregano is a perennial and basil (an annual plant in Maine) has to start from seedling every year, oregano pesto has become a regular routine in the spring, when the basil is too young for harvest. Last night I decided to substitute hazelnuts for the traditional pine nuts for an added twist.

Mortarpestle_2 Oregano/Hazelnut Pesto

4 servings, about 1 1/2 cups each.


  • 15 hazelnuts, toasted*
  • 1 cup (packed) fresh oregano, washed, dried and chopped
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons shredded parmesan cheese
  • 8 ounces fettuccine (uncooked weight)**
  • Optional garnish: fresh oregano leaves, chopped tomato


1. Turn the hot nuts into the bowl of the mortar and give them a preliminary few blows with the pestle to break them into pieces. 

2. Add the oregano, salt and garlic and combine beating and grinding motions to break the ingredients down further. Add the oil and use a grinding motion to further reduce the pesto to a paste. (If you wish this step may be done in a food processor.)

3. Stir in the cheese and turn the mixture into a sauté pan.

4.  Cook the pasta in salted water. 

5. Lift the pasta directly from the cooking water to the pan with tongs, allowing some of the water to ride along. Over high heat, stir and toss the pasta and pesto for a minute or two to allow the sauce to thoroughly coat the strands, adding a little more pasta water if necessary to produce a slightly creamy consistency to the sauce. 

6. If desired, garnish with a few oregano leaves and a spoonful or two of chopped tomato.

*To toast the hazelnuts, place a dry sauté pan on high heat, add the nuts and stir constantly until they start to turn brown. Remove immediately.

**I use Dreamfields pasta but the Nutritional Estimate shown is based on regular pasta. Dreamfields makes a claim that a 2 ounce (dry) serving -- about a cup and a half of cooked pasta -- has only 5 grams of "digestible carbohydrates," even though the FDA nutrition label on the box shows 41 grams of carbohydrates in the serving. I'm hoping the Dreamfields claim is true but I've not yet found a truly independent confirmation of the Dreamfields claim, so I've decided to be conservative in making the estimates. If you have more information about the Dreamfields claim please let me know. 

Nutritional Estimate 4 Servings. Per serving: 347 Calories; 44 g Total Carbs; 6 g Dietary Fiber; 2 g Sugars; 15 g Fat; 41 mg Cholesterol; 178 mg Sodium; 6 g Protein. Weight Watchers: 7 points.

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Comments that's a pesto I could eat!

The husband is a big fan of basil, and while I do like it here and there, am not quite so crazy about it.

I often suggest (and occasionally make) a pesto made with other herbs, to which he turns up his nose. But the combination of *oregano* and hazelnuts might just win him over!

Great idea. I found I needed to add a little liquid-- I used a little extra olive oil, about 1T lemonjuice and 1/4 c. water. I also doubled the nuts.

At any rate, it's delicious. Thanks.

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