Pesto is a funny little kitchen basic – in many respects it isn’t one. It isn’t essential for a risotto the way a pile of parmesan is, nor the backbone of salted butter in a pan of mashed potatoes. It isn’t the milk for your tea, the loaf for your morning toast or the instant coffee to perk up your mornings. But in the way that margarine isn’t as delicious on a scone or UHT milk curdles in your cuppa, jarred pesto is a stunted fridge essential that never really gets away from the aftertaste of preservatives and added rubbish.
The real deal is infinitely better, more so because you can put your own spin on it. You can add a hint of Asian tang with lime juice, like I have, or sub in a different nut like walnuts if you wish. You could choose untoasted nuts; half basil and half rocket or add decadent chilli oil to the mix. It’s a simple kitchen staple that is so personal to everyone, that this blog post isn’t really a recipe at all, merely a guideline. Pesto is the staple for mixing up the perfect sauce for your lunchbox pasta salad, a spread for your mozzarella and tomato panini or baked onto a pizza in place of a rich tomato sauce (coming later on this week!)
What is really essential is that you step away from the jars and step into the kitchen. Pesto making is therapeutic and painterly, watching the ingredients turn from milky white garlic, to forest green basil, to soft parmesan lime and a final dollop of jade that coats a strand of spaghetti beautifully. Of course, you could zap the ingredients in a food processor but where is the fun in that? Grab a mortar and pestle and crush your way to a tastier essential. You need never pick up a jar again.
You Will Need
50g pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
Pinch of sea salt
80g (one bag) fresh basil
25g finely grated parmesan
Juice of half a lime
Freshly ground black pepper
75ml olive oil
Heat a saucepan over a medium heat then add the pine nuts. Swirl around the pan to keep the nuts evenly toasted, which should take around 5 minutes. As the oils are released, the nuts begin to toast quicker. Once lightly golden, remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Slice the garlic cloves and add to a mortar and pestle with the salt – slicing into smaller pieces helps to grind the garlic quicker. Once crushed to a smooth paste, wash the basil and add to the bowl, crushing again. Mix in the parmesan then crush in the nuts to form a pesto paste. Add the lime juice for a sour tang and season with black pepper. Pour in the oil and mix in with the pestle. Transfer to a jam jar and keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.