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Monday, 23 July 2012


Pesto is an Italian pasta sauce that comes from the lovely Liguria region, which is lapped by the gentle waves of the Mar Ligure (Ligurian Sea). It literally translates as "pounded", which is an apt description of what happens to the few ingredients it is made of: they are all pounded to an intoxicatingly beautiful smelling paste. Traditionally, pesto is paired with trenette, a kind of flat, narrow pasta shape; however, I find that its simple but intense flavour makes it a wonderfully versatile ingredient that can be drizzled on bruschetta, pizza, a roasted tomato salad, grilled seafood, roast chicken, baked fish, boiled new potatoes and so on. You can make it using a food processor, however the contact of the metal blades with the basil will cause the latter to lose its vibrant green colour in favour of a less attractive greyish one. If you can, use a pestle and mortar: it's much more fun and also a healthy way of releasing any suppressed stress or anger :-)
INGREDIENTS (makes a medium bowl of pesto sauce)
  • Two large handfuls of freshly torn basil leaves
  • 1 fat garlic clove
  • Two handful of fresh pine kernels. Use them as they are to achieve a creamier texture (my preference and the more traditional recipe) but if you are looking for a nuttier taste, then you can lightly toast them first
  • Approx. 50 ml of extra virgin olive oil (have some extra handy as you may need more)
  • One handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • A pinch or two of maldon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
I apologise in advance if the quantities for this recipe are a bit approximate, but the good news is that making pesto is not a precise science like baking is and its texture, seasoning and ingredient ratio can be varied to suit your taste. Also, if you are going to toss it into pasta you may want to add a bit more oil to ensure it coats it evenly, while if you are using it as a bruschetta topping, you are going to want a more concentrated, thicker pesto sauce.

To make your pesto sauce using a pestle and mortar, follow the few simple steps described below. If you are using a food processor, then place all the ingredients together in a food processor and blitz to a paste, adjusting the seasoning as needed.

1. Place the peeled clove of garlic in the mortar and sprinkle it with a pinch of Maldon sea salt. Grind it to a smooth paste, until the garlic practically disappears.

2. Add the pine kernels and grind them to a rough paste, leaving some larger chunks in for texture.

3. Add the basil leaves and grind them thoroughly, mixing them well with the pine kernel and garlic paste.

4. Pour the olive oil and beat it in well, to loosen the paste.

5. Finally add the grated Parmesan cheese. If your pesto is too thin, add a bit more Parmesan; if it's too thick, add more olive oil.

It keeps well for a few days if stored in a clean, airtight glass jar in the fridge.

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