Pesto has become so popular in recent years that there is seemingly no end to the different varieties on offer in supermarkets. In fact, the pesto shelf is an impressive spectacle, lined with small jars radiating an cheery spectrum of colours. From the emerald green basil options, through to the bold red tomato and pepper flavours, right up to the deep purple aubergine varieties. Pesto is everywhere, and seems to go with everything.
For me, however, basil pesto still reigns supreme as the original and best. And what’s surprising to many, is that it is frighteningly easy to make. So easy, that once made at home, you will never touch a supermarket option again.
All one needs to dabble in the craft of pesto making is a blender, or food processor, grater, and small frying pan, as well as the ingredients listed above. My own version of this delightful paste suits my taste buds well, however, I hasten to add that there are many different variations out there – some that prescribe the use of a pestle and mortar, others that insist on specific amounts of basil to oil. Thus, I would urge you to experiment a little, as making pesto is somewhat intuitive. I start with my basil and oil, then gradually add the remaining ingredients, adding more oil as I go, until the consistency seems right. Nevertheless, below is an outline of my method and quantities, but be prepared to make changes based on your own preferences. You may, for example, dislike a strong garlic flavour, and so could lightly fry this before hand, to create a more mellow garlic undertone.
1. Toast approximately 50g of pine nuts in a small frying pan over a low heat. No oil needed. Remove from the heat when lightly browned. This will take 4-5 minutes.
2. Add approximately 60g of fresh basil to a blender or food processor, and pour in a couple of glugs of oil. Blend until the mixture begins to puree. You may need to stop and stir, to free up the blades a couple of times, and may need to add more oil if it is too thick to blend.
3. Add two cloves of garlic and continue blending.
4. Gradually add more oil, as well as a handful of spinach, and the toasted pine nuts, and blend until the mixture is pureed to your liking. Some people prefer their pesto to be a little chunky, others opt for a smooth mixture.
5. Grate in approximately 50g of hard cheese – parmesan is the traditional option, but I find that pecorino is equally delicious, and a cheaper option at the supermarket. Blend once more until mixed in.
6. Once finished, store in a jar or airtight container in the fridge. I tend to find that this keeps for a couple of weeks if refrigerated.
Use for a range of different meals: drizzle on salads or mozzarella, toss with pasta, drizzle on homemade pizza, add to sandwiches. The options are endless.