The traditional formula of pesto is very simple

28-05-2009

Alas, it's exam time again. I assume that you, like me, can barely find a moment to spend in the kitchen. But to be ready for those days when every minute counts, you can prepare your own convenience food: make your own pesto. It takes a bit of effort, but it's easy to scale up and stores quite well, if you keep it in the fridge with a thin film of olive oil on top. Once the work is done, you have a wonderful quick-fix meal, and you won't need more than one or two spoons for yourself and a guest.

Don't fall for the stuff you find in shops – homemade and shop-bought pesto are worlds apart. Fresh pesto is vibrant! The traditional formula is very simple, based on basil, olive oil and garlic, thickened with pine nuts and enriched with parmesan. If you take a look at the ingredients of shop-bought pesto, it's anything but, or just enough so that they can write it on the label. Unfortunately, cheap substitutes like unspecified vegetable oil, cashew nuts and nameless cheese take all the fun away.

As always, there is more than one way to produce a delicious pesto, so I’m not implying that you shouldn't divert from tradition. When you do, though, you should be aware of what you’re doing, and do it intentionally. All you need for your experiment is a good, affordable source of herbs, like the market or your own garden. It just wouldn't be economical to make pesto if you have to pay for every single leaf.

Put 100g of basil, two cloves of garlic and 50g of lightly toasted pine nuts into a food processor and blend into a coarse puree. Add 100ml of olive oil and 40g of grated parmesan, and blend the mixture again for a few seconds. Pour it into a bowl and stir in some more olive oil (maybe 100 to 150ml) until you get the desired consistency, and season with salt and pepper. A bit of lemon juice can lighten the taste and enhance the green colour.

Once you know how it should taste, you can start to experiment; for example, substitute some of the basil with parsley, or use rocket instead, or walnuts instead of pine nuts. A pesto of completely different character is coriander-chilli pesto, which is more suitable for north African than Mediterranean dishes, but the method is the same – just add a fresh green chilli, and use coriander instead of basil and almonds instead of pine nuts. I love pesto with extra-thin spaghetti, but you can use it to add a little flavour to many other dishes as well.

 

Tim Aretz

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