July 25, 2009

Sauces: Pesto

Pasta with Pesto

The basil in the garden is going wild; some of it is starting to bolt. It's definitely time to preserve some of it before it's too late, and one of the best ways to preserve basil is in pesto.

There are as many ways to make pesto as there are Italian grandmothers. If you have an Italian grandmother, get her to show you how she makes pesto and use her method and recipe. I don't have one, so I'm on my own.

There are two traditional ways to make pesto. Some traditionalists insist that a mezzaluna is required so that everything can be chopped by hand and mixed with olive oil. Other purists rejoineder with the mortar and pestle, claiming it's the only way to mash the leaves to get a true paste. Someday I may try the mortar and pestle version, but for now I'm using a food processor.

I don't measure anything when I make pesto, so I can't give you a detailed recipe, but it doesn't matter, because there is no one true pesto. What I prefer is to start with parmigiano reggiano and pecorino romano in about 2:1 proportions, roughly grated. I add two or more cloves of garlic, depending on the size and season, and about the same quantity of toasted pine nuts as grated cheese. Then I add a small handful of Italian parsley leaves and two or three handsful of basil.

After pulsing the food processor a couple of times I'll add two or three more handsful of basil leaves and pulse again to roughly chop and mix everything. If it looks like enough basil, I'll start the processor and drizzle in extra virgin olive oil until there's just enough for the pesto to hold together, but not enough for it to be soupy. Next I taste and add a pinch or so of salt if needed, pulse once or twice, and taste again. Once I'm satisfied with the flavor, I add a generous squeeze of fresh lemon juice to brighten the flavor and preserve the color.

Whatever pesto I don't need right away goes into ice cube trays for freezing. Once the cubes are frozen I put them into a freezer bag so that whenever I need a bit of pesto I only need to grab a cube or two.


  1. Do you ever mix up your nuts and add in some walnuts? I'm a hand chopper of pesto myself, but I love it in every incarnation.

  2. I do all sorts of variations, but my favorite nut variation is to use almonds instead of pine nuts.

  3. I like to use roasted sunflower kernals myself...

    I leave the cheese and pine nuts out of the mix when I freeze it, I have had the cheese and/or nuts degrade the pesto upon defrosting...just my own experience. Then I also use it to cook in with things, or defrost in a pan and cook/saute things with that oil and flavor base...

    But I do it the same way! I also posted pictures of the ice cube -ziploc bag method on a post called Basil Overload!

    Nice to hear great minds think alike!

  4. great pesto, and lovely site love reading from chefs I can learn so much rebecca

  5. Excellent suggestion, making the base, freezing, then adding nuts and cheese to taste after thawing. I hadn't really considered that before. Thanks!

  6. Really enjoyed the recipes here.