Parsley pesto

Apart from the pasticcini diversion and tasty fried anchovy and courgette flower experiments that I’m hoping to write about next week, we’re still having a parsley phase here at Via mastro giorgio 81. Vincenzo suggested parsley daze might be a more appropriate way of describing the situation, as he ate another mouthful of very green food.

I made the parsley soup again, but this time with vegetable stock. It was good, but the stock was, as I suspected, unnecessary. Parsley soup is, in my opinion, a soup best made with water. Then I made Fergus Henderson’s parsley salad, the one he famously serves with the roast marrow bone at St John, lots of chopped parsley, tiny capers and finely chopped shallots dressed with olive oil and lemon. I ate it with some lardo di colonnata on toast. I should post about that too because it’s  delicious. Then I made parsley pesto.

I’ve made parsley pesto before, but this time I’d planned to do some research. Jodi suggested using walnuts instead of pine nuts, another friend uses almonds, I seem to remember reading that you can blanch the parsley first and I wanted to try that. But in the end, time, work and habit meant I made it, like before, using the Genovese basil pesto recipe as a template but substituting basil with parsley. So: pine nuts, really fresh flat leaved parsley, Ligurian olive oil, half parmesan and pecorino sardo and on this occasion, garlic.

Vincenzo is extraordinarily patient. If he’s cooking, he makes pesto in the pestle and mortar, a long, slow grind. I, on the other hand, am not very patient, but do know that pesto made with a pestle and mortar has a texture and consistency that can’t be achieved in a food processor or blender. So I compromise. I pound the nuts and garlic in the pestle and mortar with a little salt which means the garlic is crushed as opposed to being chopped with a blade. Then I tip the nut and garlic paste into bowl, add the parsley a little at a time and use the stick blender to reduce this to a thick, green paste. I try to work the mixture as little as possible. Then using a wooden spoon I gradually stir in the oil, and last but not least, the cheese.

In the absence of linguine or trennete we stirred the pesto into spaghetti alla chittarta. This is a pasta dish that reminds you how important the pasta cooking water is. It is crucial that you use and save some of the water the pasta has been cooking in – it will be cloudy with starch – to loosen the pesto a little. Generally I put a couple of tablespoons of pesto into a warm serving bowl, then just before draining the pasta, I scoop ladleful of the well salted, starchy pasta water into the pesto to thin it into a looser, creamy paste which will coat the pasta. When I drain the pasta I save a little more of the water in case it is required. Finally, I tip the drained pasta into the bowl, stir and add more pesto and pasta water if it’s nessesary, to achieve the silky, slippy, creamy consistency we like.

Parsley pesto may not have the extraordinary peppery, warm, spicy heat of basil pesto, but it has other qualities, it is fragrant, subtle, grassy and wholesome. We both agreed that a little garlic works well with the parsley – I find garlic can overwhelms basil and we often (not always) leave it out of basil pesto. We liked the simplicity of this plateful. We like that parsley is the star.

I think that parsley pesto will be taking occasional turns with basil pesto from now on. I am looking forward to trying this recipe with walnuts, maybe toasting them first, then I’d like to experiment with almonds or as the brilliant Alex suggests, brazil nuts. I imagine parsley pesto could be very good thinned with a little more olive oil and stirred into boiled, sliced new potatoes and slim green beans or a good, green flecked dressing for cherry tomatoes to be piled on toast.

Last thing, I think pesto is a really personal thing, these are loose guidelines, feel free to play around with these measurments and quantities.

Parsley pesto

Makes a small jar (which gave us 6 servings)

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • pinch of salt
  • 50g pine nuts
  • Bunch (about 150g) of Italian flat leaved parsley
  • 250ml extra virgin olive oil (preferably a light and fruity one, Ligurian is great)
  • 50g freshly grated parmesan and/ or pecorino sardo

Separate the leaves from the parsley and wash and then dry them very carefully and throughly in a clean, dry teatowel.

Either in a food processor or using a pestle and mortar start with the garlic and salt. Smash the garlic and then add the nuts and crush them.

Add the parsley a few leaves at a time and crush or pulse the food processor or stick blender until you have a thick, green paste.

Stop the food processor if you are using it. Now work by hand, preferably with a wooden spoon. Pour in the oil in a thin stream, stirring all the time until it is incorporated. Stir in the cheese. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve within a couple of days. The pesto will keep well covered in the fridge with a thin layer of olive oil over it to stop it discoloring. Freeze if you will have any left over after 3 days.

I don’t need to tell you how to cook pasta, but I will note that we eat 100g of pasta each so 200g in total into which we stir in 3 really large tablespoons of parsley pesto.

Talking of Peroni, I’m off for one now. Hope you had a sunny and happy weekend where ever you are.


Filed under food, olive oil, parsley, pasta and rice, sauces

60 responses to “Parsley pesto

  1. Your photos are so beautiful.

    I don’t often give parsley much of a chance in my food. I guess I never really think about it, but this looks and sounds really nice.

    • rachel

      Thank you
      and so as John Lennon said, ‘give peace (and parsley) a chance’

    • johnnie

      Just found this site as I have so much parsley growing on my balcony here in Southern California, it’s making me nervous lol. In the same giant pot I’m trying to grow tomatoes and cucumbers which are growing but the height of the parsley is not giving them the sun the seedlings need. So tomorrow it’s Parsley Pesto !!!! My other pot of cucumbers have some fat and long ones on them so perhaps also a salad of them sprinkled with yet more parsely. I found raw walnuts in my freezer just now. How old? I’m afraid to know that. Whatever !!! In any case thanks for this website ! It’s great. Btw, my parsely grows so outrageously, that the seeds drop into the alley and there’s parsely all year long everywhere here, in the alleyways and even on the streets and I know it’s from my plants. Sorry neighborhood !!!!! They’ve become weeds at this point lol.

      • rachel

        Hi Johnnie,
        thanks for such a nice comment and it’s nice to meet you. I wish I had space to grow parsley here in Rome, but even my window ledge is too narrow. Lucky You ( and your neighbors by the sound of it). A salad of cucumber, olive oil, salt and parsley sounds just the thing for these hot summer days.
        All the best Rach

  2. i love this. i’ve been making spinach pesto, cilantro pesto, and parsley pesto and its all very good. xo, e.

  3. Chris

    Great, I’ll be using this to use up the flowering parsley plants we have in the garden. Thanks!

  4. I’m excited to try parsley pesto! It looks delicious, especially on pasta. I’ve only made the basil variety, so cheers to trying something new!

  5. Pingback: Parsley pesto « rachel eats | ClubEvoo

  6. I’ve always wanted to try parsley pesto. Now I will! I love basil pesto on new potatoes and on string beans, so why not parsley? And crostini with tomatoes dressed with parsley pestos sound divine.

    • rachel

      I can now confirm that parsley pesto on tomatoes on toast (with lashings of oil) is really nice. We had it last night with more beer !

  7. i really love your photos. i have never had a parsley pesto, what a wonderfully peppery idea. i too would love to try it with walnuts.

  8. And she does it again! Parsley pesto sounds great. As much as I am NOT a parsley fan, I adore these odes to the flatleaf. They make me want to come sit at that unbuffed wooden kitchen table, pop the cork to a Peroni, and sit slurping up oily strands of your artwork.


  9. Parsley Daze Indeed! I like that it is the star as well, and would be delicious with walnuts.
    Great tips about the Garlic—it really can overwhelm in pesto. And, something about chopping the garlic in the food processor unleashes something bitter. You are right that it’s best to use mortar and pestle here

    • rachel

      Mortar and pestle – even though my compromise is a bit lazy I know. Yes, I am looking forward to trying the walnuts too.
      Beans, potatoes and pesto idea – this was inspired by you really.

  10. Pasta, parsley and Peroni – perfect!

  11. My biggest fear right now is that a blight or hail storm will wipe out our crop of basil.

    I’ve not tried others like parsley, but admit that I am intrigued.

    I recall seeing once on a travel program pesto being stirred and twirled, tableside, into pasta. It was the most beautiful, moving thing. Another admission, seeing such a thing in such a beautiful place as Italy, almost brought me to tears.

    We are anxious to freeze the first batch. Not being able to pull out two cubes once a week until next summer will cripple my soul. It will be tragic.

    • rachel

      Now I am worried about your basil. And quite horribly envious of course. I think if you like basil pesto and parsley (which i know you do)
      then parsley pesto is worth a try, maybe with a bit of mint, an alternative for warm evenings when pasta with very green pesto followed by lots of figs is perfect supper.

  12. m

    Parsley pesto…I’ve wanted to make that for a while. I’ve never thought to save a bit of the pasta water for the pesto. Interesting!

    I app-solutely ♥
    my ✄ Fabric U ✄
    iPhone app!

    • rachel

      Pasta water was a revelation to me with pesto (and other dishes) just a little keeps the pasta smooth and silky – experiment is the key.
      Obviously beware of drowning. i made this mistake once and we ended up with soup.

  13. TD

    Your photographs always look great. But the one with a bowlful of parsley pesto makes me want to jump into the screen and taste some! It’s lunch time here, and I am very hungry…therefore the need to jump up and eat.

    You have a magical way of writing about food that makes cooking sound dreamy. Is it that dreamy always? It isn’t for me. I fret, twitch and drop things in the kitchen. Sometimes the results make me smile, often I am just glad to be done finally. I am, however, always glad to read your kitchen stories. Thanks!

    • rachel

      Thank you.
      I am tempted to get Vincenzo to answer this, but he is out so here goes. I love cooking and most of the time I find it really happy and productive process – I should add I have no kids, a very flexible job, and a great ability to procrastinate in the kitchen. But then, on a quite regular basis I can’t really be bothered and want a pizza, or it is messy and goes all wrong, I cry, swear, say really nasty things to my boyfriend, hate my kitchen (which is a nightmare to cook in). I think I need to post about this in case you all think I am an annoying dreamy person all the time.

      • TD

        Thanks for your elaborate reply! I am so glad you are not perfect all the time. I get deeply jealous of perfect people, which we all know isn’t quite nice. And you are not annoying at all when you write about those dreamy cooking sessions. I enjoy a little dreamy online. Life needs to feel rosy somewhere. 🙂

  14. I love your description of why to save the pasta water and how to use it for the best, creamiest sauce — so well said! And I’m loving your parsley phase. 🙂

    • rachel

      I think using the pasta water is one of the best things I have learned here ( you all seemed to know about this secret long before me)!

  15. I am also intrigued as to what it says on that tea towel now too.

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  17. Rachel,
    I agree with TD. You do make cooking sound magical, and that is one of the reasons I really love your blog.
    I love to cook, but cooking can be messy and go all wrong sometimes. Your blog reminds me of all the magical, and wonderful things I love about it.
    About the pesto……WOW. I am in love with Italian parsley and put it in many-a-good-thing, but never thought to do this! I know I’m going to just love it.
    I might be blogging about it this week, and singing your praises!
    Thanks so much!

    • rachel

      Thank you little clove. I am glad we all agree on the magical mess that cooking can be.
      Happy parsley pesto making to you !

  18. Mmm peroni…

    On the subject of pasta water I am always surprised that starchy salty pasta water can convert something average to something so much better. I don’t try to understand it I just accept it.

    Gemma x

  19. Parsley soup, eh? I’m very intrigued. My favorite parsley condiment is the almost luminescent parsley (or more usually just called ‘green’) sauce served in many an East End chippy with fried things and pickled eggs. That said, the only time I made it myself was to accompany a fish souffle, so, rather like your pesto, it can be a multi-use sauce. But let me go back to what really hooked me on this post – I know it’s stalker-ish, but such is the vicarious digital world me live in (for the record, I’m sitting in a freezing air conditioned office in Midtown Manhattan), but when you mentioned your address I couldn’t help but google map it. No wonder you recognized our photos of the market in Piazza Testaccio! Apart from increasing my levels of envy of your life, this was a lovely chance (through the miracle of ‘street view’ on Google Maps) to retrace our steps around Testaccio from May 2006. I’m sure you care not a jot, but it was such a joy to (virtually) wander past the riparian fig trees just down Largo Giovanni Battista Marzi from the Ponte Testaccio where we turned our mouths inside out biting into unripe figs the morning after we got engaged. Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be, but there really is nothing like being reminded of good times, and for that reason (among many others) Amy and I are big fans of your work.

    • rachel

      Jonny and amy – Yes your photos were a blog bonding moment – as were lots of your recipe – especially because quite a few
      people are confused by Testaccio, afterall it is not pretty and ancient like much of Rome. You both understood it. You see I am very jealous of your Mid manhatten life.

  20. This is my first visit and I’m loving your blog! It’s funny cause I just made pesto for the first time last night and plan to write about it as well.

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  23. I make parsley pesto with capers instead of cheese that is the best! We used to top pizzas with the parsley-caper pesto, zucchinis sliced thin, roasted garlic, and a pile of fresh baby arugula once they came out of the oven.

    Somehow, the cheese is easier for me to leave out than the pine nuts, though. They have that spectacular buttery flavor!

    • rachel

      your pizza sounds terrific – I imagine parsley pesto is rather like salsa verde, which is one of my favourites, I agrree with you about the pinenuts with their wonderful distinct flavour, they are pretty unique. Even though I did make a nice almond and basil pesto the other day which I will definately make again.

  24. Thomas

    Hey Rachel! Just came across your site by doing a search for “parsley pesto”. Great piece! I also am so pleased to here about the using pasta water to make the pesto creamy. Never knew how it was done at a favorite Italian restaurant in NYC. One thing I’ve discovered w regards to pesto is to pecans. They’re cheaper than pine nuts (at least where I’m located) and do not have the bitter taste that walnuts have… Also, they keep well in the freezer. Thanks again for your posting!

  25. diana

    parsley pesto is also fabulous on grilled tuna steaks!

  26. I just made this with unblanched (due to laziness) almonds, and it was awesome. The almond flavor is fairly subtle. I also added a third clove of garlic, because my garlic cloves were really small.

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  28. lfc

    Was low on time and did an ultra-fast version of this with half a dried, toasted muffin, a huge pile of bushy parsley, a red chili pepper, olive oil, garlic, pepper, walnuts and a dash of celery salt. Blitzed it in a blender. Probably not a patch on your original recipe, but the family fell on it like hungry vultures all the same!

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  30. Hadilly

    If you put your garlic cloves in a saute pan for a couple of minutes, rolling them around periodically, they sweeten so your pesto won’t have that bitter garlic bite. Learned that tip from Cook’s Illustrated.

    We made this pesto today (tasting the pine nuts a bit) and inhaled it for dinner.

    Really enjoying your blog!

  31. Hadilly

    Um, that should have been “toasting the pine nuts a bit.”

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  35. Caitlin

    Wow, such lovely photos! So happy to have found this recipe. Do you think curly parsley would work as well? I have just received a large bunch in my weekly CSA share and think that this would be a nice way to use it.

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