Gareth Food knows his pesto. Indeed, he has been invited to be a judge at the 2012 World Pesto Contest (Campionato Mondiale di Pesto al Mortaio), to be held at the Palazzo Ducale of Genoa on 17 March. When you have a moment, do take the time to read two of his posts that closely concern the making of pesto, both good and bad:
However, if one does not own a mortar and pestle … and if one does not have access to the authentic ingredients that are available, even in Italy, ONLY on in the region of Liguria, on Italy’s north west Coast … what is one to do boo hoo? The answer is : do the best you can. Use ONLY extra-virgin olive oil, pine kernels, parmesan and pecorino cheese, garlic and fresh basil leaves of course. You can even make an ersatz pesto using parsley leaves, which is a better idea in Winter because basil is more of a summery herb.
I normally make pesto only during the summer months when I have access to plenty of basil on my balcony. The only reason I presumed to make pesto in March was because … well, because I was floundering over what to make for supper for friends who were all non-meat eaters last week. I was under the spell of late-Winter brain fog and was almost falling apart trying to work out a menu. I went to the fishmonger’s looking to be inspired by the catch of the day but I got there about half an hour before closing time at lunch and found, to my horror, that not much was left! And what there was didn’t inspire me at all. I was ummming and erring and feeling a sense of anxiety wash over me and finally had to excuse myself and left, empty handed. Have you ever sat an exam when you just couldn’t answer the questions? It was a bit like that.
Fortunately for me, however, friend Simonetta was in another shop next door. She was recovering from an operation on her bunion, wearing very bulky unattractive foot wear (naturally) and wasn’t exactly in wild spirits herself — which was comforting for me because when one is feeling out of sorts, the last thing one needs is the irritating presence of someone who is full of beans and revelling in revelling. We commiserated handsomely and that did a lot to raise our mood. “So WHAT am I do do?” I pleaded of her. And her suggestion was: pasta with venus clams and pesto. “Easy to make. Delicious to eat”. Simonetta literally solved my menu dilemma and I shall always be very grateful to her. I had never eaten this version of pasta alle vongole and was curious to find out — the thought that experimenting with guests might not be a good idea never crossed my mind. If Simonetta said it was good, I knew it was going to be good.
I managed to find some fresh basil leaves at the market and off I went to make what I now call ‘next-best’ pesto: one using a processor instead of a mortar and pestle. A home-made next-best pesto will, however, always taste better than what’s on the market in supermarkets, promise you! The only decent industrially made pesto that I have found to be good (and expensive, naturally — pesto is not a cheap dish) is the Casa Lombardi one (www.casalombardi.it).
Step 1 – The Garlic
One of my dinner guests, I knew, has great trouble digesting garlic. So, in order to ‘curb’ the after-effects of garlic without compromising on its taste, I decided to smite its bite a little by bringing the garlic cloves to the boil three times. It’s easily done. Place the peeled garlic clove in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil and throw the water away. Repeat the process another two times.
Here are the two garlic cloves that I brought to boil three times. I cut them in half and removed what the Italians call the ‘soul’ of the garlic, ‘l’anima’, which is indeed the part of the bulb that is responsible for garlic’s reputation for bad breath.
I then proceeded to ‘pound’ the garlic, in mock mortar-and-pestle fashion, with a lemon squeezer! (Necessity is the mother of invention … I would have used that wooden thing for making mojitos … but couldn’t find it.) I covered the garlic with a pinch of salt before pounding it.
Step 2 – The Freezer
Put the blades of the processor in the freezer. The container too if it fits (mine didn’t). The reason for this is a chemical one that I am not clever enough to explain but basically, it’s something to do with heat ruining the basil leaves. The colder the blades and the container, the better.
Step 3 – Making the Pesto
Assemble all your ingredients first: 100g pine kernels, 100g grated parmesan cheese, 100g pecorino cheese, 220ml olive oil … and lots of basil leaves which I didn’t count! There were four bunches in all … Don’t forget a good pinch of salt and, if you’re like me, some freshly milled white pepper too.
It’s not easy to explain exactly what I mean … but basically, try and ‘pulse’ the food processor as little as possible, until you reach the above stage when the basil leaves have blended with the rest of the ingredients. I expect we are talking about 30 seconds or so.
Step 4 – Storing the Pesto
I read somewhere that if you make the pesto WITHOUT adding the cheese, you can store it in the freezer for six months in small batches. The cheese can be added fresh at the time of use.
And that’s my recipe for home-made next-best pesto for you!
P.S. The pasta with venus clams? Very nice. Again, thank you Simonetta. The clams are steamed open as per usual before adding the pesto.
And a few days later, I used the leftover pesto for supper …