Classic Pesto

If you’ve ever tasted pesto in Italy you know that the pesto here just isn’t the same. Smashing all the ingredients by hand and not blending them is the key because this prevents the ingredients from becoming a completely homogenized emulsion or paste. When you dress a pasta with a pesto that has been hand pounded the miniscule flecks of basil will separate from the olive oil in places, you get definition between ingredients, and bright flavors pop in a way they don’t when they’ve been blended into one.

“Il pesto” (the “pesto”) is made “pounding”, the ingredients in a mortar of marble with a pestle of marble. The same name “pesto” in italian means “pounded” and not chopped. So use a mortar and a pestle if you have those.

You’ll notice this recipe doesn’t have any added salt (just the saltiness from the cheese), make sure your pasta water is well salted if you are going to use this pesto on pasta or the overall flavor profile will fall flat. Also, be sure to adjust for seasoning before serving. With food this simple, you need to get the seasoning right.

* 1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried
* 3 medium cloves of garlic
* one small handful of raw pine nuts
* Roughly 3/4 cup cheese, loosely packed and freshly grated. The cheese should be a 50/50 blend of (real) parmigiano and (real) pecorino (romano or from Sardinia)
* A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Start pounding the garlic along with about 1/3 of the basil leaves. Once this is loosely pounded add more basil, pound some more, add the rest of the basil, pound some more. Scrape and pound, gather and pound. At this point the basil and garlic should be a very fine mince. Add about half the pine nuts, pound. Add the rest of the pine nuts, pound. Add half of the cheese, pound. Add the rest of the cheese, and pound. In the end you want a pound so fine that you can press all the ingredients into a basil “cake”. Transfer the pesto “cake” to a small bowl (not much bigger than the cake). Cover with a bit of olive oil.

You can set this aside or place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Just before serving give the pesto a quick stir to incorporate some of the oil into the basil. Occasionally you can thin the pesto with a splash of pasta water for more coverage.


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