Homemade Pesto


As an Italian graduate I definitely should have made the connection a little sooner, but it wasn't until recently that I realised that the word pesto comes from the Italian verb pestare which means 'to crush', 'to bash' etc., which is exactly what happens to the ingredients when making pesto.

Pesto is one of my favourite summer weekend pasta sauces. Handfuls of homegrown basil, toasted pine nuts, lashings of good olive oil, fragrant garlic grown nearby in Voghiera and a generous  amount of parmesan or grana all chucked into my grandmother's pestle and mortar (I hadn't even made the connection between pesto, pestare and pestle!)

It is so simple to make; adding all the ingredients one at a time and satisfyingly bashing them down to a green, chunky paste. I like to add my pesto to spaghetti as it is a house pasta favourite but I also love it added to the Ligurian Trofie, gnocchi or spread over bruschetta. 

A pestle and mortar is the traditional way to make pesto and leaves the mix a lot chunkier, but you can just as successfully make it using a hand blender which makes a smoother but just as tasty sauce. Blenders are especially good for making pesto if you have to make a lot of it.

I generally stick to a more traditional recipe using pine nuts, basil and parmesan, but there are so many delicious variations that you can try out just switching the nuts or green elements from the recipe but keeping the quantities the same. For example a favourite of mine is using peppery rocket instead of basil, especially good if making pesto in the winter when basil is harder to come by. 

(Serves two very generously)

- half a clove of garlic
- a pinch of coarse seasalt (I like to use Maldon)
- a handful of pine nuts
- two large handfuls of basil leaves, stalks removed
- a very large glug of extra virgin olive oil 
- a large handful of grated parmesan 
- a twist of freshly ground pepper 


- roughly chop the garlic then add it to the mortar with a pinch of salt to help grind it down to a paste with the pestle

- lightly toast the pine nuts being careful not to burn them. Add them to the garlic and bash to a paste

- add the basil leaves to the pine nut and garlic paste a few at a time and continue bashing until you reach a paste consistency once more

- add a generous amount of olive oil and mix in the grated cheese and grind some pepper over. Don't use the pestle at this point

- add to freshly cooked pasta and mix thoroughly or spread over toasted bruschetta. Yum

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