Pairing Profile – Lemon Basil Gnocchi with Smog City Unity Saison

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While staring at the open fridge, contemplating what to cook for dinner, I see out of the corner of my eye a plastic clamshell package full of basil. The basil was nearing the end of its lifespan but before allowing it to degrade to the point where it was no longer useable I pulled out a dish that can be used on anything that I want to cook the remainder of the week, lemon basil pesto. While this sauce will go amazingly well on just about anything I settle on potato gnocchi to be the carb on this plate.lemon basil 2

Having created this Lemon Basil Pesto numerous times I know the flavor profile very well. It has a vibrant citrus tang from lemon zest and juice but the backbone of this meal and the primary flavor is the basil. Herbal and earthy tones are coaxed out by the addition of toasted pine nuts and a high quality extra virgin olive oil. Unlike most typical pesto sauces I toast the pine nuts lightly to enhance the flavor and provide some depth. This will cause the pesto to be a slightly darker color but the flavor impacts are huge and are worth the tradeoff to me in the color change. The gnocchi are rather flavorless compared to other ingredients on the plate but will add a hearty-note with a mild cooked potato flavor. For me the gnocchi is just the vessel to carry the star of the show and could be substituted for any type of pasta. More than that, following the recipe will yield additional pesto that can be stored in the freezer for a few months and used on anything from steaks on the grill to something as simple as toasted bread. I like having it on hand to add to garlic bread when I make a tomato based sauce to create another dimension to the meal. Any food that is seeking a punh of flavor will be good target for this vibrant herbal pesto.

lemon basil 3Understanding the flavor profile of the pesto I venture to the beer cellar to find that perfect beer to pair with dinner. In reality a lot of beers would work with this including everyone’s favorite citrus IPA or pale ale. A light sour such as a Berliner Weisse will also work well but I’m looking for something with more complexity to bring out the toasted notes from the pine nuts in addition to mimicking the citrus. I finally settle on Smog City’s Unity Saison, a collaboration beer created for Los Angeles Beer Week 2015 The Unity Saison is a tart saison that is ever so slightly soured but has a toasted character that provides more backbone than some other tart saisons. This toasted note will provide obvious comparisons to the lemon basil pesto while elevating the flavors of basil through the tartness. The dry finish and high carbonation will cleanse the palate between each bite.

Below is the recipe for the lemon basil pesto sauce that I use, it is very simple and takes around 15 minutes to prepare. If you are looking for a beer to pair with it and can’t find Unity Saison (I would be surprised if you could find it) search out another tart saison. A slightly sour version will be great with the lemon basil pesto and will enhance the citrus notes but even a slightly funky saison with brettanomyces will work provided that it is not overdone. Giant barnyard notes will most likely overpower the delicate flavor profile but a light earthiness will add complexity to the meal. I hope that you enjoy the pairing and recipe, I know that we here at Educate.Beer enjoyed creating it, cooking it and eating it!

Lemon Basil Pesto


2 garlic cloves, peeled

½ cup pine nuts, toasted

Zest and juice of 2 lemons

2 cups packed basil leaves

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 heaping tablespoons grated parmesan cheese

2 heaping tablespoons grated pecorino Romano cheese


  1. Place pine nuts on baking sheet in 375°F oven for 5 minutes
    1. Stir them after 2 minutes and watch carefully
    2. Pine nuts should be lightly toasted but not burned
  2. Pulse in blender add garlic, toasted pine nuts, lemon zest and lemon juice
    1. Save some toasted pine nuts for garnish if desired
  3. Once mixture is smooth add basil leaves one small handful at a time
  4. Add extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese and pecorino Romano cheese to blender
  5. Add water to thin sauce as desired
    1. Not adding water will create more of a spread for bread or grilled meats
    2. 4 tablespoons will create more of a sauce like consistency to coat pasta or gnocchi