There’s something about fresh basil. Whenever I inhale its scent, my imagination is whisked away to a sunny afternoon in Tuscany. I adore basil in many dishes; pesto is a particular favorite of mine. It’s winter now, but for some reason I’m craving warm weather Mediterranean flavors. The answer? An Italian-inspired hummus infused with the flavor of pesto. Luckily, in most cities fresh basil can be found year-round. Even in the middle of a polar vortex, we can whip up a batch of pesto and find ourselves transported to a sun-drenched Mediterranean shoreline.
This hummus gets its burst of flavor and color from roasted garlic, lemon juice and fresh basil leaves. Basil is quite common in Mediterranean cuisine, thought it’s actually native to India and areas of Northeast Africa and Southeast Asia. Throughout history basil has inspired intense feelings of both love and fear. Sweet culinary basil, Latin name Ocimum basilicum, derives its name from the Greek words okimon (smell) and basilikon (kingly/royal). Okimon is obviously linked to basil’s unique and attractive fragrance. The basilikon reference is likely due to basil’s flowers, which bloom a historically regal shade of purple.
Greek philosopher Chrysippus (279-206 B.C.E.) wrote that “Ocimum exists only to drive men insane.” Historians believe that the negative folklore associated with basil stems from its Latin name, basilicum, which sounds quite similar to basilisk, the dangerous mythical serpent. Sound familiar, Harry Potter fans? On the other hand, basil has also been used as a powerful aphrodisiac in love spells. In Italy, the sweet variety of basil is known as bacia-nicola or “kiss me Nicholas.” If a pot of this basil is left on a windowsill, it is often done in hopes of attracting a potential lover.
Basil and white bean hummus are a match made in heaven. Drizzle this White Bean Basil Pesto Hummus with olive oil and sprinkle with pine nuts to complete the flavor symphony. Serve with crispy Italian breadsticks, olive and fresh crudités for a Mediterranean appetizer platter your guests will love!
How do you like your hummus- plain? Spicy? Garlicky? Roasted red pepper?
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White Bean Basil Pesto Hummus
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 3 1/2 cups soaked and cooked cannellini beans (or 2 cans)
- 3/4 cup fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for garnish
- 3 tbsp tahini paste
- 2 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tsp honey or agave nectar
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- Salt to taste
- Fresh basil leaves and pine nuts, optional garnish (if serving to guests with nut allergies, omit the pine nut garnish)
- Crudités, breadsticks, pita and/or crackers for serving
- In a small saucepan on the stovetop, roast the garlic cloves in the olive oil over low heat for about 30 minutes, stirring every so often, till golden and soft. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Separate the garlic cloves from the oil; reserve both.
- In a food processor, combine the roasted garlic cloves with the cannellini beans, tahini paste, water, basil leaves, lemon juice, honey and cayenne pepper.
- Process for a couple of minutes, scraping the sides every so often, till a chunky hummus forms.
- With the food processor running, drizzle in the roasted garlic oil. Continue to process till the hummus is smooth and creamy. Taste and add salt if needed. Typically canned beans have already been salted, so you may not need to add much more. I usually add between 1/4 tsp- 1/2 tsp of salt. Be sure to add carefully, as the mixture can become too salty rather quickly. If you would like to adjust the texture of the hummus and make it softer, add more water 2 teaspoons at a time and process till the texture is to your liking.
- Transfer the hummus to a container or serving plate and chill in the refrigerator. If desired, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with pine nuts before serving (to keep this recipe nut free, omit the pine nut garnish). Serve with toasted pita or pita chips, crudités or your favorite cracker.