basil pesto sauce

basil pesto
While a pesto made with basil isn't strictly a seasonal recipe, I had made a bucket-load last weekend. I was cooking for several picnics over the Easter holiday and the weather was divine, as good as you could hope for. (London was apparently hotter than the Sahara!) So while my basil plants are still little more than seedlings, a trip to my local Middle Eastern deli, Phoenicia in Kentish Town, armed me with bags of the stuff at a very reasonable price indeed.

This is my preferred pesto sauce recipe, taken from one Anna Del Conte’s Amaretto, Apple Cake and Artichokes book. She is one of my favourite food writers, who together with another Italian food writer, Marcella Hazan, beautifully evoke the glorious flavours of Italy.

This can be made either traditionally, in a pestle and mortar, or less authentically but a lot less elbow grease, in a blender. (And to be honest, I can't really tell the difference in flavour, although I am sure that purists can set me right on that point).

Anna Del Conte also suggests adding two tablespoons of Greek yoghurt, which adds a lovely tart, creaminess to the pesto.

You can also make pesto with a variety of other ingredients, from rocket to walnuts. It’s a pretty forgiving sauce, so it’s time to get experimenting. I tend to make up large batches and freeze a portion of it without the cheese. It is so versatile and can be used to make interesting party nibbles or stirred into soups and stews as well as a sauce for pasta.

Serves 4
Skill level: Easy
Preparation time: 10 – 30 minutes

1 x large bunch of fresh basil leaves (about 60g)
2 x garlic cloves, roughly chopped
25g pine nuts, lightly toasted
a pinch of rock salt
4 tbsp Parmesan, freshly grated
4 tbsp Pecorino, freshly grated
120ml extra virgin olive oil

  1. If using a pestle and mortar, put the basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt into a heavy mortar and using the pestle, grind against the sides to crush the ingredients into a paste.
  2. When a paste has been formed, add the cheeses (you can use just Parmesan or just Pecorino if that’s all you have) and begin to add the olive oil, very gradually. Beat with a wooden spoon.
  3. When all the oil has been incorporated, stir in the yoghurt.
  4. If using a food processor or blender, add all the ingredients, except for the cheeses and yoghurt, into the beaker of the blender.
  5. Blend at high speed and when evenly blended, add the cheeses and give a quick blend at low speed or in “pulses”.
  6. Stir in the yoghurt if using.

  • When the pasta has cooked and been drained, reserve 4 tablespoons of the cooking water and add this to the pesto before dressing. (This helps the pesto sauce to better cling to the pasta).


Patricia (La Chatte Gitane) said...

Nothing beats homemade pesto. ;-)

Unknown said...

Hello Rachel, so glad to have found your lovely blog. Our basil crop has just gone to seed after a summer of pesto - and I'm already looking forward to next year's!