Can anyone remember the world before Pesto? Anyone?
Pesto seems to have been pimping our pastas and glaming our dowdy fritattas since, oh, 1882? In reality, few people outside Italy had heard of Pesto until the 1990s but it’s definitely taken on the ‘comfortable old slippers’ role in the culinary shoe cupboard since then.
Originating in Genoa, Italy, it may not have begun to emigrate until the 90s, but with it’s pal, the Sundried Tomato, it certainly ‘owned’ that particular decade. In Australia, it was slathered over everything including chicken, sandwiches, quiche, prawns, beef, turkey and the odd seafood chowder. Nothing was spared.
These days we have a more moderate and frankly sensible approach to pesto. It’s a terrific staple to have in the fridge, but I’m going to come over all puritanical here; I can’t stand supermarket bought ones. If you absolutely, positively do not have time to whip up a batch, just throw some basil leaves, oil, pinenuts and parmesan over whatever you were going to use it for and enjoy the flavours. You won’t get anything half as good in a pot at the supermarket. My one exception to this rule is the pesto sold at La Fromagerie in Marylebone. It’s unctuous and potent and full of real live ingredients; no numbers. They make it instore, in small batches.
So, with the prosthelytising done, I leave you with my recipe for a perfect pesto every time. It’s a build on the original Genovese one as it uses both raw and roasted garlic, but I think the roasted garlic adds a rich sweetness to this classic beauty. Let me know if you make a batch, what you use it for and how it works out for you!
- 1 Bunch super-fresh basil
- 1/2 cup toasted pinenuts
- 50gm parmesan
- 6 cloves garlic
- 200ml good quality olive oil
- A good whack of freshly ground black pepper
- Drizzle 4 cloves of garlic with olive oil and wrap in foil. Pop into oven and roast until soft in centre.
- Chop raw garlic roughly then throw into a food processor with the remaining ingredients.
- Peel and cool the roasted garlic and add to the other ingredients.
- Whizz to the desired consistency.
- You shouldn't need any additional salt if you use a good quality parmesan - but check at the end of the first whizz and add if you think it needs it.
- Some people prefer their pesto smooth and paste-like and others like it a bit chunky. I think it depends on what you're using it for, but just be careful with the whizzing if you want chunky - it morphs into a paste very quickly.
- Cover with a few centimetres of olive oil to preserve for longer.
- Tip: Top up the jar with oil as you use it to help stop oxidisation and prevent it from becoming brown.