Homemade pesto is a delicious, healthy sauce that can be used in countless ways. The fragrance of pesto just lifts my spirit. I make it once a week, and use most of it to make my gnocchi with pesto dish. The rest I store in the fridge in an airtight container, and use in sandwiches (fresh mozzarella and tomatoes go really well with pesto), on bruschetta, as a dip, on pizza, or as the green dollops of garnish needed to complete a more elaborate plate presentation.
Notice that I add no salt to the pesto. None is needed. The flavor of the basil, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan are complete without.
Pesto has its origins in Liguria, Italy, where people have been making it for hundreds of years with wild basil. I grow plenty of basil in my garden during the summer, but in the winter months my indoor pots do not produce nearly enough for my pesto sauce, which is especially rich in basil. Luckily, basil in now available in any good supermarket or farmers market. Choose young, bright green leaves. Make sure to get rid of the stems (they don’t taste too good).
Homemade pesto is infinitely superior to anything you can buy in a jar. The ingredients in some shop bought pesto often include very little nuts, with cashew nuts replacing the pine nuts, very little basil, a random cheese or low grade oil. There’s usually also a long list of ingredients which have no place in pesto, like flavors, preservatives and colors.
2-3 cups of loosely packed fresh basil leaves (2 bunches),
1/2-2/3 cup pine nuts
2 tablespoons of fresh grated Parmesan
2-4 large cloves of garlic
1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper
The practical way:
Food processor- using the “pulse” setting, pulse several times, until you reach the consistency you prefer. I like my pesto course, with no visible oiliness. Add more oil if the sauce is too dry to your taste.
The romantic way:
Mortar and pestle: probably the best tasting pesto you’ve ever had. Children have a great time using the mortar and pestle. The fragrance of the basil fills the kitchen with happiness, and gives everyone a real connection with the food. It does take plenty of time, but worth doing at least once, maybe on a snowy day.
Grind the dry ingredients in the mortar, by pressing and pounding with a pestle, and then add the oil gradually.
A few words about basil:
There are dozens of varieties of basil, some with more flowery notes, some dominated with spicier and clove like notes.
The flavor of basil depends not just on the variety, but also on the soil condition, the sun exposure and the stage at which the basil is harvested. I find that the younger leaves are much more aromatic.
Basil is rich in phenolic antioxidants, anthocyanins (plant pigments, very potent antioxidants) and aroma compounds, and is being studied for its many medicinal effects.