You Can Make It Yourself: Pesto

Pestoor known properly as pesto alla genovese, is a classic Italian sauce originating in Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, Northern Italy. If you have always bought pesto at the store, here is a recipe that will change your mind, nay your life.

Bursting with fresh flavours and brilliant green in colour, pesto is redolent of the perfume of basil. Tossed in with pasta, mixed with mayo for sandwiches or a panini, as a pizza sauce, on everything from eggs to chicken to corn on the cob—pesto is something you can make at home instead of opting for the pricey or bland pre-made versions. Not only is pesto delicious and versatile, the people you feed will admire your industry and your prowess in the kitchen. All that, and it somehow makes you feel like a gourmet chef every time you open the fridge door and see a Mason jar filled with pesto-y goodness. Oh, the possibilities!

To aficionados (and Italians) be a true pesto (and this is the exact term they use), it must be pounded in a mortar, and it must be made with fresh basil. Traditional Italian pesto is made strictly with basil, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano , garlic, and really good olive oil.

Yes, it is good. Very, very good. The Italians have made it this way generation after generation for good reason. However, you and I can fiddle with the recipe to suit our tastes (we’re Canadians, after all), and what happens to be in the pantry (we are ever so practical). If the weekly budget doesn’t extend to pine nuts, use roasted walnuts, almonds, or unsalted cashews instead. Pecorino is excellent in pesto, with its sharp, salty tang, but trust me when I say, it is worth growing basil in your garden just so you can have a stock of pesto on hand at all times. Parsley is just not at all the same.

I have made pesto with a mortar and pestle, and I have made it in a food processor, and honestly, I can’t tell much of a difference. One is all about an engagement with the ingredients (with the plus of an upper arm workout), the other is quick. I do, however, draw the line at a blender—Just, No.

Because basil is a delicate herb that tends to wilt and wither and brown in the blink of an eye, you need to act fast to preserve its vibrancy and aromatics. Some say you can freeze pesto, but for me, pesto is all about fresh, so I never have.

The recipe I use is from the orange-croc-clad Italian master, Mario Batali in his cookbook, Molto Italiano.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic
1 pinch sea salt
1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano
3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino
10 tablespoons Ligurian extra virgin olive oil

Directions
In a large stone mortar, place pine nuts, basil, garlic and salt and grind with a pestle until paste. Add cheeses and drizzle in olive oil, reserving a little for coating pesto in the jars,beating with a wooden spoon. Store in jars, topped with a very thin coating of extra virgin olive oil to just cover the pesto.

Keeps in fridge at least a month.

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Susan Written by:

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