Pesto is Italian – a quite pungent blend of fresh basil, pine-nuts (“Pinolia”), cheese, garlic and olive oil. It is a great accompaniment to Pasta and Gnocchi, but around my table it is often spooned on to grilled or fried chicken and fish. It is simple to make and it’s a super summer dish. It’s economical, too; a generous teaspoonful is adequate for a normal plate of pasta. There is plenty of fresh basil around, now and pine nuts are generally available, although these come from China and are not nearly as freshly tasty as those which come from Lebanon or Syria. So if you have a relative or friend who goes to and from either of these places, get them to bring you a Kilo (which will cost around €50.00, but kept in a tightly fitting lidded jar they will last some time).
One other point: use a mild extra virgin olive oil – avoid powerful (and expensive) full-bodies oils. The quantities given will meet the demands of four big, six average, or eight light pasta eaters. In a buffet a dish of, say, Marks and Spencer’s super Papardelle and Pesto, it will go further still. If all is not eaten at the first sitting, put into a jar this fresh Pesto will keep for a few days in the fridge.
As for equipment, I use a food processor, but if you are a traditionalist then get out the pestle and mortar.
The Classic Pesto Recipe
2 tbsp pine nuts
50 g / 2 oz fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove, peeled
A pinch of coarse sea salt
4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp freshly grated mature Pecorino cheese
120 ml / 4 fl oz / ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
This is the traditional pesto recipe of the western Riviera. You can vary it, but whatever you do, use a mild extra virgin olive oil, not a peppery one.
- Brown the pine nuts a little, which heightens the flavour. Spread on a baking tin and put into a hot oven for a few minutes, or turn continuously in a hot non-stick frying pan.
- Put the basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts and salt into your food processor or a mortar.
- Whizz until smooth (but still with visible little bits of pine nuts and basil, or work your the pestle, to crush all the ingredients against the side of the mortar until the mixture has a nice grainy paste consistency.
- Remove to a small bowl.
- Mix in the grated cheeses and pour over the oil very gradually, mixing well.