It would be nice if there was always a jar of homemade pesto sitting in the fridge… or sitting on the table.
A jar of the deliciously green amalgam of basil, pine-nuts, pecorino sardo, garlic and extra virgin olive oil waiting patiently to lend it’s aromatic deliciousness to everything it touches. A generous spoonful stirred into some linguine or trofie, a dollop in a bowl of summer minestrone, a little with some warm lentils or as topping on a steaming baked potato……dribbled over some warm grilled vegetables, perking up a bruschetta…….
Of course we don’t always have a jar of homemade pesto in the fridge.
I have been thinking alot about pesto recently, so much so, that I was beginning to believe I had actually made some, a bit like when you tell a little fib so many times it starts to feel true. I know what started my pesto daydreams, it was this nice little film – go and watch it and then come back and you tell me you don’t want to make and then eat some pesto.
I really like it when I get a real food bee in my bonnet, an idea, something you really really want to make buzzing around in your head, distracting you from from other much more mundane tasks. Inspired by the film, food bee buzzing and with long weekend time on our hands we decided it was about time we made pesto. Then, I decided that Vincenzo should try making it in the pestle and mortar,after all his drummers arms are much more adapted to all that pounding. We struck a kitchen deal, I would do the shopping and washing -up, he would pound.
Whilst buying the basil at the market Vincenzo - the other one my fruttivendolo – showed me something quite wonderful. He picked a tiny delicate basil leaf from its stalk and rubbed it between his fingers, the delicate little thing dissolved into green paste and released the most extraordinarily powerful aroma. Then he took a handsome but larger more fibrous leaf and rubbed it between his big fingers, not alot happened, the big leaf remained pretty much in tact, maybe a little bruised releasing a wonderful but rather more modest scent. ‘That‘ explained Vincenzo ‘is why you need to pick the smaller more delicate leaves for pesto. Tiny sweet basil leaves like those found in Liguria, delicate, without dense thick fibres, more highly scented than their larger relatives, leaves which willingly crush, dissolve almost, into a more sublime and smoother pesto.
3 bunches of basil, some nutty, waxy pine-nuts, a bottle of mild, minerally Ligurian olive oil and a piece of Pecorino Sardo, two Gin and Tonic’s and Dr John’s let the good times roll on repeat, we were off.
I have used several recipes over the last few years, flirting unfaithfully with them all until I found one I wanted to settle down with for a while and more importantly, a recipe which really worked. The recipe in question is Giorgio Locatelli‘s one from Italian Food, producing a beautifully well balanced and fragrant pesto- just a little garlic and the right amount of cheese for my liking-. I usually make this recipe with the hand blender but it is also well suited to a more traditional, labour intensive pestle and mortar treatment.
Making pesto with pestle and mortar is a little labour of love. No brurr, brurr, hurhh of the electric blender here, this is a slow, deep, thwock, pound and twist of a recipe. First the pine nuts and salt, ground into a fine, dry but almost creamy flour in the mortar. Next the garlic, gently pound and pummel it into the coarse pine nut flour. Now the washed and dried basil leaves, drop them in a few at a time and work them into a paste as quickly as you can and then go a little dizzy as the pervasive scent of basil whirls around your nostrils. Now add the cheese and the oil gently stirring until you have a bright green paste.
How long did it take ? Quite a while…..I seem to remember.. although the gin and tonic, longweekendness and fact I was merely observing, it made it a very pleasurable while. Was it worth it ? Well, it was some of the nicest, deliciously basily, fragrant pesto I have ever eaten – I know I am biased.
We ate some stirred into some fresh Linguine cooked with fine green beans and matchsticks of potato.
This could become a habit.
makes a small jar
Adapted from Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe in his book Made in Italy
- 2 cloves of garlic peeled
- 2 Tbsp of pine kernels
- 250g fresh, small, sweet basil leaves. Washed and gently, gently dried.
- 3 tbsp freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan
- 250ml extra virgin olive oil – preferably Ligurian or another lighter, softer, minerally oil.
- tiny pinch of salt
Either in a food processor with a sharp blade or using a pestle and mortar grind and crush the pine-nuts and salt into fine flour. Add the garlic and pummel into the flour.
Drop in the basil leaves a few at a time and work them in as quickly as you can.
Add the cheese and then finally the oil, stirring until you have a bright green paste.
The quicker you work, the less heat you generate and therefore the brighter the green of the pesto will be.
Pesto will keep in the fridge for about 6 months if you top each jar up with a thick layer of oil.