My basil is growing like crazy in the last couple of weeks, making me think of pesto every time I see it. For me pesto is a very special thing, it’s like a chocolate – every time I see one, I have to try it. In defense of my sanity though, it must be said pesto is a very versatile ingredient to have in your fridge. It could be a pasta or meat sauce, spread for a sandwich, dip for grisini, dressing for a salad, and many other things, you name it. And a big bowl of it, made from my own organic plants… is a dream come true.
I still remember the first time in my life I made pesto. It was an extreme experience – it included a bleeding chef (he accidentally slit his wrist), giving me few brief instructions while waiting the ambulance and a bunch of Italian girls, not knowing that, eagerly awaiting their pasta with pesto. And at that time my cooking experience was… Well, I knew how to fry an egg. But I made it, and even managed to get a compliment or two! Since that I have made lots of pesto, mainly the Pesto Genovese.
I know people make “pesto” using an amazing array of herbs, nuts, cheese and even vegetables. I like the idea very much and I’ll probably try soon some cilantro – hazelnuts – feta combination. But the Pesto Genovese is the king here, and that is a fact.
I have checked the recipe I was given (of course, the first one I made), and it turned out to be quite close to the traditional pesto Genovese, as it is prescribed by “Il Consorzio pesto genovese”. And, talking about traditions, I prefer preparing it using mortar and pestle, although it’s much easier to be made with the help of a food processor. The light variations in the recipe I make from time to time are substituting the pinoli (pine nuts) with cashew and using Dutch goat’s cheese instead of the Italian pecorino.
Here is how it’s made in Liguria and in our kitchen:
Makes around 350ml pesto, quantity enough for 10-12 pasta serves
Preparation time: 15 – 20 minutes
150g fresh basil leaves, rinsed and dried
50g Parmigiano (Parmesan cheese), freshly grated
30g Pecorino or goat’s cheese, freshly grated
50g raw cashew nuts
100ml extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
Few crystals coarse salt
In a dry mortar first pound the garlic. If you’re not a garlic fan, you can crush them without peeling and then easily take the flesh away. Add a handful of basil leaves together with the coarse salt and grind them till the basil releases its green juice. Basil’s essential oils are preserved in the veins of its leaves and for the best taste you should not beat them, but slightly rotate the pestle to tear the fragrant leaves. Add the basil in batches until the whole quantity is well crushed.
Add the cashew nuts (at once or in 2-3 batches) and crush them too. Add the grated cheese and stir well. When the mixture in the mortar is homogeneous, add slowly the olive oil.
If you’re not going to use it right away, keep your pesto in an airtight box in order to avoid oxidation. You can keep it in the fridge or even freeze it.