There are a lot of pesto recipes out there, and I’ve tried them all: with/ without pecorino; with butter instead of olive oil (thanks for nothing Matthew Fort); toasting the pine nuts; roasting the garlic… I even went through a long period of persisting with the pestle and mortar after reading an article about the pesto championship in Liguria that made me feel a bit inadequate - but to be honest it just took too bloody long. Pesto should really shouldn’t take longer to make than your pasta takes to boil (6-7 mins), so resorting to a hand blender is no bad thing (sorry if I have any Italian readers. I’m so sorry).
My many experiments have eventually resulted in a recipe I love, and I’ve acquired a few tips along the way that are worth sharing:
1) Don’t toast the pine nuts. You lose a bit of that lovely sweetness that the pine nuts add
2) Likewise, don’t cook the garlic, although it’s good to be frugal with it. I love garlic, but once it gets blended it can really overpower the sauce and throw the balance off
3) Invest in a really good extra virgin olive oil - bad olive oil makes for bad food
4) Trust your own tastebuds. If there’s not enough basil, add a load more. Basil’s strength varies hugely depending on the season, so you may need more in colder months
4) This is the important one - don’t mix your pesto into the pasta whilst it’s in your saucepan. Mix the pesto and pasta together in a large cold bowl. The hot saucepan will damage the delicate basil flavour and you’ll be left disappointed after your hard work to make a brilliant sauce. I’m not kidding when I say this really makes a difference - this is my super-duper, top tip, and you are welcome.
1 large basil plant (or two little ones)
½ garlic clove
70g pine nuts (reserve a few extra to top your dish)
Finely grated vegetarian hard cheese
A pinch of sea salt
A big glug of extra virgin olive oil
(I know these are imprecise, but you need to taste and mix until you’re happy)
Add the basil leaves, the pine nuts, a big glug of olive oil, the salt and the garlic to a large bowl. Blend with a hand blender until the consistency is nearly smooth (you don’t want soup, but you don’t want big unblended chunks of garlic or nut either).
Grate in the cheese and mix with a spatula. Taste and season again with more cheese or salt if needed. Add a little more olive oil if the mixture is a bit stiff. It’s your dinner so make sure you’re happy with the balance.
Tip your drained pasta (gnocchi, linguine, trofie - whatever your favourite is) into the bowl of pesto and mix with your spatula. Sprinkle in a few more pine nuts and serve with a twist of black pepper.