How to make the perfect pesto
- Serves 6
- Garlic – 2 cloves
- Basil leaves – 100g/3 ½ oz
- Extra virgin olive oil – 8 tblsp
- Pine nuts – 3 tblsp/100g lightly toasted
- Parmesan – 50g/2oz grated
- Butter – 45g/1 ½ oz at room temperature
Today a mind-boggling array of sauces go by the ‘pesto’ name. Amongst them are combinations of ingredients which any self-respecting Italian would, quite frankly, disdain. To really understand this powerful, neon-green sauce you need to go back to how the Genoese first made it: with magically scented, plump-leaved summer basil of Liguria, extra virgin olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, butter and grated cheese. All pounded together in a mortar and the pestle which gives the sauce its name.
Basil is at its best and most flavoursome when it is raw. So pesto should be served raw, ideally served at room temperature and never cooked.
- Roughly chop the garlic and put it in a food processor – or a large mortar – with the basil, olive oil, and a big pinch of salt.
- Blend it to a smooth paste and then add the pine nuts and blend to rough paste. The pine nuts should be broken up rather than turned to a mush.
- Transfer it to a bowl and mix in the grated cheese, then the butter by hand. When you mix the pesto with the pasta you can loosen it with a tablespoon of the pasta water.
Why not try some of these variations on the recipe?
Pesto with a punch – give it a kick with extra virgin olive oil with Sicilian chillies.
Toasted walnut pesto – replace the pine nuts with double the weight of toasted walnuts, and add parsley and ricotta.
Parsley and lemon pesto – replace the basil with parsley, add a squeeze of lemon juice and use extra virgin olive oil with real lemons.
Rocket pesto – replace or supplement the basil with some rocket and blanched almonds and ditch the garlic
Red pesto – add sundried tomatoes for a touch of summer sun.
Which pasta should I use?
Spaghetti – mix in some pesto, fresh basil leaves and extra pine nuts
Gnocchi – can you get a better match?
Fettuccine – or what the locals call trenette
Tonnarelli – this square spaghetti is rounded off with pesto
Lasagne – homemade pasta sheets layered with pesto and ricotta
Risotto bianco – with a big dollop of freshly made pesto
Minestrone with pesto – a local classic
Silk handkerchief pasta with pesto – thin and silky sheets of paster slathered in pesto
Beans with potato and pesto – indulge in homemade pesto with no pasta.
Portobello mushrooms baked with pesto
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