This is our standard pesto, the kind we make nearly every time we have enough basil leaves. It’s simple, but, while not quite traditional, it will beat pretty much any jar of pesto you find in the supermarket. Now, we know that we’ve done other versions in the past: Basil-Almond, Arugula, and Kale; if you’ve made one pesto, you’ll know pretty much how to make any of them. We thought we’d post this to show how quick and easy this is to put together.
It also has the advantage of using only high-quality ingredients — for us, that’s a must in making pesto — which is more than you can say about the jars of green glop on the shelves that are labeled “pesto.” We’ve looked, and, given the prices, they should have had gold-plated basil leaves sprinkled on top. Instead, they included things such as: canola oil, whey reduced lactose, and whey protein concentrate. This was from a supposed “Italian” brand. Trust us, no pesto recipe should have whey reduced lactose. It’s not normal.
Makes about a cup.
We almost always use walnuts in our pesto. Yes, we know that pine nuts are traditional. But we also know that most pine nuts come from China and cost about $18/lb. Together that’s a deal-breaker. So, instead, we go with California walnuts, but certainly use pine nuts if you want truly authentic pesto. Use a high quality extra-virgin olive oil. Most extra-virgin olive oil, isn’t, and often it’s not even olive oil, so watch out. If you taste the olive oil and it doesn’t really taste of much, it’s not extra-virgin. Extra-virgin can be peppery, or have enough flavor to make you cough and your eyes water. Really. Use the very best cheese. We use Grana Pardano cheese as Parmesan almost exclusively. It’s made to the same exacting standards, but, since it isn’t made in Parma and generally isn’t aged quite as long, it’s about half the price of real Parmesan.
Amounts. Think of the amounts listed here as a guide to tastiness, but change them to suit your taste. Add more garlic, have less cheese, whatever. Just own the pesto.
Procedure in detail:
Mise en place. If you haven’t done so, toast your walnuts. Preheat the oven to 350°F, place the nuts on a baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes (5 minutes for pine nuts). Wash the basil and remove the stems. Peel and slice the garlic.
Chop. We like to slice the garlic thinly lengthwise and place it on top of the basil leaves. Then, we simply go to town with a chef’s knife: chop, chop, chop. We chop until everything is minced pretty finely. For this first chopping, we don’t include the nuts; that way, we make sure the garlic is minced to our liking.
Add nuts and chop. Place the nuts on top of the pile, and chop some more. It seems like a lot of chopping, and you might be tempted to use your food processor. You can; we won’t stop you. We just find that spending five minutes with a knife is preferable to cleaning the food processor.
Place in bowl. Scrape everything from the cutting board into a small bowl and switch to a spoon.
Add cheese and oil. Place the cheese right on top, then pour in the oil. Using the back of the spoon, smash and break up the cheese and stir it into the basil mixture. Keep smashing and mixing, adding more cheese and oil as needed, until you have a coarse paste.
Taste and season. Now, simply give the pesto a taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Or more cheese, or even more garlic (minced).
Cover and refrigerate. Once mixed, we like to let the pesto mellow and meld for a few hours. Not too long, just a couple.
As we said, this is our favorite pesto. We stir it into pasta for a meal, we’ll spread it on bread as an appetizer. Sometimes we’ll add some to tomato sauce to provide a flavor boost. This batch is destined to be used to replace the sauce on a homemade pizza. We think of it as the all-purpose Italian condiment. Five stars.