Brown bread, hemp oil and parsley pesto

Brown bread, hemp oil and parsley pesto

River Cottage Every Day
6–8 tablespoons
Simon Wheeler

Traditionally, pesto is tossed with hot pasta or spooned on to classic Italian minestrone, but I’m much more likely to use it as part of my lunchtime repertoire. I love to add it to sandwiches made with cold roast meat, tomatoes and crisp salad leaves. In fact, if I’ve got some really good, fresh white bread, I’m happy to anoint it with a generous slick of pesto and nothing else. It’s also very good as a dressing for lunchbox salads. You could even take some to work to augment hot soup or a plain baked potato from the office canteen.

Classic pesto is, of course, made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan and olive oil – and lovely it is too, especially if you’ve grown the basil yourself and harvested it minutes before blitzing. But the basic notion of pesto – a nutty seed (or seedy nut) pulverised with herbs, hard cheese and richly flavoured oil, is ripe for experimentation and customisation. At River Cottage we’ve had a lot of fun, and a lot of success, inventing pesto variations.

Parsley is my favourite pesto herb, since it is so abundant and easy to grow. They will keep in the fridge for several days, or longer if the surface of the pesto is covered with a thin layer of oil.


Quantity Ingredient
60g coarse wholemeal or granary breadcrumbs
large bunch parsley (about 50g), leaves only
1 small garlic clove, roughly chopped
150-200ml hempseed oil
50g parmesan or matured hard goat’s cheese, finely grated
1/2 lemon, juiced
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper


  1. Toast the breadcrumbs in a small frying pan for a few minutes, until crisp and nutty, then leave to cool.
  2. Put the parsley leaves and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (or chop them by hand, if you prefer). Transfer to a bowl and stir in enough oil to create a thinnish paste. Stir in the cheese and breadcrumbs, thin with a little more oil if you want, then adjust the seasoning with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
  3. The breadcrumbs give this pesto a coarse, chunky texture. It’s absolutely delicious with jacket potatoes.

Use these pestos in the following ways:

  • • along with shreds of cold chicken, pork or beef and a few lettuce leaves.

    • Combine in a sandwich with some of the broad bean hummus.

    • Spread thinly over a flatbread or tortilla and top with crumbled goat’s cheese or thickly spread soft cheese. Add a little leftover ham or cooked bacon, if you have some, then finish with a few peppery salad leaves and roll up into a neat parcel.

    • Toss with cooked white beans, such as cannellini (tinned or cooked at home from scratch), plus diced tomatoes and some cold cooked potatoes to make a substantial lunchbox salad.

    • Mix with leftover peas and/or leeks, then combine roughly with some torn buffalo mozzarella and pack into a pitta bread.

    • Cook 350–400g pasta shapes, drain and toss with one quantity of pesto while still hot. Leave to cool. Use this as the base for various portable salads, by adding cheese, cubes of ham or chicken, flakes of sardine, mackerel or cold leftover fish, roughly chopped hardboiled egg, cooked pulses, or chopped cold roasted vegetables.

    • Use a heaped tablespoon of pesto to replace the parsley and Parmesan in the onion frittata.

    • Pesto thinned down with a little extra oil and lemon juice makes a good dressing for any of the slaws, or the tabula kisir.

    • To make pesto bread, slice a ciabatta or French stick diagonally at 3–4cm intervals, without cutting right through to the base. Spread any pesto thickly between the slices and trickle with a little oil. Place on a baking sheet, cover with foil and bake in an oven preheated to 190°C for 10 minutes, removing the foil for the last 3–4 minutes. Especially good for summer barbecues, and to serve with soups.
River Cottage
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
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