I love making pesto. I find it’s one of those things that’s just nowhere near as good when you buy it in the supermarket. It needs to be made fresh and eaten quickly, preferably with a large serving of pasta or generously spread onto some toasted bread. There’s also such a lack of choice when buying ready-made pesto; unless you’re shopping somewhere uber-posh, there’s generally the ‘green’ one and, if you’re lucky, the ‘red’ one and that’s about it. I have to say that things have improved a little on the shop-bought-pesto front since I moved to Pisa but despite trying pretty much every brand and variety going, I still haven’t find one that comes close to beating homemade. And I suppose when it’s so quick and easy to make, why not just make it yourself?
Today I decided to put to the test just how easy it is to make a good pesto. The first reason why making pesto is so easy is because you can put pretty much anything you want in it. The word ‘pesto’ in Italian comes from the verb pestare which roughly translates as to ‘mash or ‘pound’ so as long as the ingredients are pretty well ground up, almost anything can qualify as a pesto. Of course the classic ‘green’ pesto, pesto alla Genovese, is made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, pecorino and olive oil, but other famous varieties include pesto alla Siciliana, pesto alla Trapanese and pesto alla Calabrese. These recipes originate from different areas of Italy; the Sicialiana, from Sicily, features ricotta and tomatoes, the Trapanese, from Trapani, has added tomatoes and almonds and the Calabrese, from Calabria, is made with roasted peppers. The problems is when you have to make a special trip to the supermarket to buy all the ingredients for a traditional pesto recipe it all becomes a bit of a faff and not quite so quick and easy after all. That’s why the recipe for my easy pesto is a little less specific:
1. Some kind(s) of nut
2. Some kind(s) of herb/leaf/vegetable
3. Some kind(s) of cheese
4. Some kind(s) of oil
5. Common sense
You can use pine nuts, almonds, walnuts, cashews, basil, garlic, rocket, parsley, tomatoes, peppers, parmesan, pecorino, ricotta, mascarpone, olive oil, chilli oil, walnut oil, truffle oil….the list is endless. Of course a little common sense does have to be applied, I’m not sure walnuts, peanuts, coriander, iceburg lettuce, cheddar, Philadelphia and vegetable oil would make for a successful combination, but with a bit of thought you can create something really tasty in a matter of seconds and proudly be able to say ‘I made it myself’.
Today I raided my kitchen and found the below ingredients which I decided could be pesto-able:
|Parmesan, pecorino romano and pecorino pugliese|
|Basil, tomatoes and rocket|
|Pine nuts, almonds and walnuts|
Although tempted to go for a walnut and rocket combination that I’d seen on a restaurant menu a few days ago, I decided to use up some of our tomatoes and go for my take on a pesto alla Trapanese with pine nuts, almonds, basil, tomato, garlic, parmesan and olive oil. In terms of quantities, to serve 2, I normally go with a small handful of nuts, a large handful of herbs, a medium handful of chopped tomato, a small clove of garlic (unless you like it really garlic-y), a generous wedge of cheese and a tablespoon of olive oil. Now technically, to get an authentic pesto, you should then grind the ingredients using a pestle and mortar but since I was going for a quick and easy version I cheated and used a food processor. Particularly when using basil, this is not the condoned Italian practice; I was pulled up just a few days ago by my boyfriend’s mother for cutting rather than tearing the basil for my caprese salad! Once the ingredients are blended to your desired texture, personally I like my pesto quite smooth and creamy, all that’s left to do is adjust the seasoning. Don’t worry if your pesto looks too thick, you can keep some of the pasta water to one side at the end of cooking and add it until you get the right consistency.
In summary, I can now confirm that making homemade pesto is incredibly easy. Preparing the ingredients, putting them in the food processor, wizzing them up, seasoning and pouring into a bowl took me a grand total of 1 minute 58 seconds. Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute meals eat your heart out! I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of the pasta because I was so hungry I completely forgot to take a photo until about two thirds of the way through my lunch so I’m afraid you’ll have to make do with just the pesto!