Monday 3 September 2018

Basil Pesto

I'm so glad that I finally put this post together. Once upon a time there was already a basil pesto recipe on this blog but it had a critical flaw. So this is the long overdue new and improved version. The issue with the last one was the texture was all wrong. I used a blender to make the pesto. Which is absolutely possible, you just need to scrape down the sides. But the issue I had was that portions of unprocessed mixture would collect beneath the blade and it wouldn't get a consistent enough... consistency. lol. I remember trying to scoop as much as I could out with a rubber spatula and tried using my stick blender but it wasn't much more helpful either. In this version I used a food processor which I really recommend. I don't want to discourage you from trying this recipe if you have a blender but no food processor. But I'm warning you, it's not quite as convenient as a food processor. All that aside, in my honest opinion, the very best way to make pesto is with a mortar and pestle. But it's conditional. If you're making a bigger batch like this, you really need a large and heavy, stone mortar and pestle. It will make light work of it and you get the absolute best flavour that way. A less heavy duty mortar and pestle can still work for smaller batches. Wooden or ceramic mortar and pestles are not as useful for this application. In this version, I will be using a food processor.

Every year I plant some herbs and every year I plant Genovese basil. This is the traditional basil used for basil pesto. As you can see, by early September I had quite a bit to harvest.

I made a fairly large batch (roughly 2 cups of pesto) so I picked as much of the larger leaves as I could and used them all. The amount of basil you need is very approximate. To get a very accurate figure of how much I used, I measured in cups and weighed them. After washing and drying my leaves I ended up with a little over 4 cups, loosely packed.

I also weighed them out and ended up with about 125 grams/5 oz. 

If you have roughly this amount of basil you are good to proceed with this recipe and the amounts given. Otherwise, feel free to scale up or back as required. This is a very adaptable recipe. 

I'll get more into the uses for basil in a moment, but first let's go over the recipe. It's very quick, easy and delicious!


4 cups/125 grams/5 oz of fresh basil (give or take)
3 cloves of garlic (or to taste)
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Juice of 1 small lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

First step is to toast your pine nuts, and yes, this is an absolutely necessary step. You may have noticed that this recipe has only a few ingredients. Whenever preparing a recipe with few ingredients, you really want to get the most out of those ingredients. Toasting the pine nuts is easy, quick and makes a huge difference.

All it takes is pine nuts and a dry pan. Heat pan over medium heat, add the pine nuts to the pan and keep them moving around for a couple of minutes until they become fragrant and just start to turn a light, golden brown. Be careful, there is a fine line between toasting pine nuts and burning them. Make sure you don't go past this stage:

Every time I toast any nuts or seeds I always ensure that I have more than I need for my recipe because to avoid snacking on them is near impossible for me. Toasting them warms up the natural oils in the pine nuts and it brings out all the gorgeous, rich, nutty flavours. Such a quick and easy step adds such complexity to your pesto.

Now it's time to start the pesto. Add your garlic to the food processor. I'm using 3 cloves, because I'm a garlic lover. If you'd like to use less (or even more) that's totally up to you. Blitz the garlic with a few pulses until the garlic is essentially minced.

Now add the basil, pine nuts and lemon juice. Blitz with a few pulses until you get semi-fine texture like you see here. Don't worry if it seems a little unevenly chunky at this point:

Now, keep processing continuously while you drizzle the olive oil in through the top of the machine.

This will really help to smoothen the texture of the pesto. At this point, you can move on to the next step, but if you prefer your pesto a little smoother than this, keep processing until you've reached the desired texture.

Now it's time to mix in the Parmigiano Reggiano. Do so by hand, not in the machine. Otherwise you risk creating an unpleasant, gummy texture. Please also note, 3/4 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano is NOT 3/4 cup of Parmigiano before grating. You might be surprised how quickly the volume adds up when you use a fine grater or microplane. The amount of cheese you use is also up to you. Use these amounts as a rough guide.

Give your pesto a taste and use it to gauge how much salt and pepper you will need to finish it off to your liking.

Tah-dah! Now you have a batch of your very own, homemade basil pesto!

This pesto has many uses. It's great as pasta sauce, pizza sauce, spread it on toast or crostinis, serve it with chicken, etc... etc... etc...

One thing I suggest keeping in mind is what you plan to use your pesto for versus how much garlic you use. If you're going to cook the pesto (such as on pizza or on chicken) your garlic is also going to cook and become sweeter/less intense. If you're just going to spread it on toast or toss some warm pasta in it, the garlic in your pesto is not going to cook and will have a sharper flavour. I always try to keep this in mind when I make pesto and I recommend you do the same.

After preparing this recipe I used it as a pasta sauce, which is one of my favourite ways to eat pesto. I cooked some penne and added my desired amount of pesto along with a couple tbsp of the salty, starchy water that the penne cooked in (it helps the pesto to bind to the pasta and gives it a more velvety texture). Then I stirred in some fresh cherry tomatoes (it is tomato season after all), some panfried chicken and a little extra Parmigiano on top. It was awesome.

I hope this inspires you to try your own basil pesto. This is as traditional as it gets, but if you're looking for a nice variation, I also have a gorgeous arugula pesto you will likely enjoy.  


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