The traditional way to make pesto is with a mortar and pestle. Herbs, garlic cloves, some nuts and a pinch of sea salt are pulverized into a paste, a little dry cheese is added to the mixture, and then it is smoothed out with drizzles of olive oil.
Today, all of the ingredients can be tossed into a food processor and presto – a perfectly smooth pesto is ours.
The food processor version is nice and fast, but sometimes the more rustic pestare can be so enjoyable. But, the mortar and pestle, (….how do you say oh, la, la in Italian?) takes some effort.
So, we’ve “lazy-ladied” the traditional method of preparation, with a knife and cutting board. Pesto can be as smooth and fine, or rough as you like (we generally like it rough for stuffed tomatoes, a little smoother for pasta, and smoother yet to spread on a sandwich).
The following list of ingredients and quantities should be used as a guideline:
1 large bunch of fresh basil
10 sprigs of Italian parsley
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup walnut pieces or 1/3 cup pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Here’s how we do it: wash and dry your herbs — plucking the leaves and processing them through a salad spinner works well, you can do all of one (basil is the most traditional) or mix any combination of basil, parsley, cilantro….make sure they are very dry before proceeding. Absent a salad spinner, rinse them in a colander and roll them in paper towels to dry.
To chop: use some version of a chef’s knife (we love the Shun knives from Japan).
Hold the handle with one hand, guide the blade with the other and use a gentle, rolling motion to cut the leaves; cut in one direction, and then the other (think north to south, west to east , or reverse).
A hard chopping method is hard on the delicate cutting surface of a good knife, and makes the final product less consistent. As you continue the process you’ll see the oils releasing and the herbs turning a deeper green color (your hands will smell wonderful when you are finished).
Next, the nuts, walnuts or pine nuts are traditional, but feel free to experiment. Once again, north to south, west to east, be sure to scoop to the center peripheral bits that were left out during the previous round (they will be larger).
How finely you chop the herbs and nuts is a personal preference, depending upon your future plans.
Cut the garlic (in Italian, aglio) in to chunks, then sprinkle the sea salt over the garlic and continue chopping to desired size.Mix all of the ingredients together, preferably in a glass bowl with a lid that fits airtight, and drizzle in your favorite olive oil. Sprinkle in the cheese and continue stirring and adding olive oil to make it a thick paste, or loose and spreading sauce, depending upon the ultimate destination of this creation. Use immediately or store in an airtight container to use in the following week.
Watch for a future post of a splendid side: tomatoes filled with pesto ciabatta.
Viva Pestare! We hope you enjoy it frequently during the coming spring and summer, we would love to hear how you enjoy pesto/ pestare, please “comment” below.
Some Shun knives and products are available in the Splendid Items section of this page.