I love pesto. The first time I tasted it, my young irish palette was taken by surprise. I had never had such a flavour combination and wasn’t sure what to make of it. I grew to love it and it’s been a firm favourite ever since. I’ve read that there’s no pesto that can compare with Genovese Pesto in Liguria, that the basil grown in the slightly alkaline soil of the Genovese district of Pra is the best. I really need to go to try this out but for the moment I have to make do with what’s available to me in London.
It’s been a while since I made homemade pesto so I thought I’d make some last weekend. It’s always good to have some to hand and homemade pesto is infinitely superior to that bought in a jar. If you look at the ingredients in some shop bought pestos they often replace pine nuts with cashew nuts, replace parmesan with random cheese and the oil is low grade. There’s also usually a myriad list of ingredients which have no place there. It’s so good for quick pasta dishes, dips, dressings, whatever takes your fancy. It can be expensive to make in the UK but I think it’s worth it. If only I was in Naples growing the basil in my back garden and collecting pine kernels from under the trees. Must make do with being in London and gathering my crop from deli’s ;)
Rather than buying packets of fresh basil that have been on the shelves for days, I prefer to buy a basil plant and harvest it. At least then I know it’s really fresh. Pine kernels are a store cupboard essential and you can get them in supermarkets, delis, health food shops, everywhere! Make sure they’re fresh also as they go off quite quickly. For the cheese, it should really be half parmesan and half pecorino but as I’m lactose intolerant I use only pecorino as it’s a sheeps cheese. Get a good one. The usual is pecorino sardo, however, as it’s harder to find pecorino romano is often used. Pecorino Sardo from Sardinia really is a better cheese if you can find it. Like everything, the flavour of this depends on quality ingredients so use a good extra virgin olive oil. Some people blend their pesto but really, it’s much better to use a pestle and mortar, the texture & taste is better. I’ve read that the heat of the blender motor can affect the oils of the basil leaves and affect the taste.
I’ve scoured my cookbooks and the web many times for pesto recipes trying to find that perfect one. They all vary wildly! Some with lots of garlic (Keith Floyd), others with very little (Antonio Carluccio) and on and on. Heidi at 101cookbooks has a great post on pesto made with a mezzaluna which I must try.
I used the following recipe which is a hybrid of multiple recipes I came across. It’s nice but I do intend perfecting it with a traditional Ligurian recipe/technique. When I have more time :)
A couple of hanfuls of fresh basil, washed and completely dry
30g pecorino sardo & 30g parmesan, fresh grated (lactose intolerants use just pecorino)
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
25g pine nuts
200ml good extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Place 1/3 of the basil and the garlic in the mortar and crush with the pestle using a slow circular motion. Be gentle or it will affect the taste.
Continue adding the basil, a bit at a time until they are all crushed with the garlic leaving a green fluid.
Add the pine nuts and crush gently.
Stir in the cheese and salt and slowly add the olive oil.
And now you have pesto!
Store in the fridge with a film of oil on top to prevent contact with the air.