One of my favourite standbys is pesto. Well, what I make is more like the French pistou, as I don’t use Parmesan cheese. It takes only a few minutes in a food processor, the combinations are endless and a dollop or two adds colour, flavour and flare to so many dishes.
Pesto goes really well with starchy foods like pasta, noodles, grains and potatoes, but adding it to any steamed or roasted vegetables, brushing it over eggplant and roasting, adding it last minute to soups, serving some as a dip or using as a spread is equally as delicious.
Pesto originates from the portside city of Genoa in Italy’s Liguria region – though the ancient Romans are said to have made a similar sauce called moretum, and variations can be found elsewhere around Europe. There are a few stories to where the name ‘pesto’ comes from. The Genoese word ‘pesta’ means to pound or crush, (the Italian word is pestare). But as pesto is traditionally ground (rather than pounded) in a mortar and pestle, the name could also come from mortaio e pestello – the pestle part of the mortar.
Making pesto is really easy and you don’t have to stick to traditional basil and pine nut – the combination of leaves, nuts and oils are endless. Here are some of the combos I’ve made:
- Basil and pinenut – the classic
- Spinach and walnut
- Rocket and cashew
- Rocket and hazelnut
- Coriander and macadamia
- Mint and almond
- Watercress and almond
- Parsley and walnut
- Nettles and cashew (you must carefully blanch the nettles in boiling water for 1-2 minutes before using – it will be a painful disaster if you don’t!).
Like a lot of my dishes, I just go by feel and don’t often measure out my ingredients. But, you could follow the below measurements and change the nut and leaves used depending on what’s in your fridge or what you’re in the mood for:
½ cup nuts, lightly toasted
½ – 1 clove garlic
ev olive oil – around half a cup
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste
- add everything except for the oil into a food processor
- with the lid on but funnel open, pour a glug of oil into the bowl and then turn on the food processor
- slowly add oil as it processes and stop when you have the desired consistency. You will probably have to stop the processor and push down any stray leaves with a spatula so if you don’t have a clear bowl then add a little oil and process in increments.
- taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
* if you want to add parmesan, use around 60g of finely grated cheese. But check to see it doesn’t contain rennet or it will no longer be vegetarian.
A few pesto tips:
- For more flavour, lightly toast the nuts in a dry frypan
- Adding ½ – 1 teaspoon of miso gives the pesto umami and extra nutrients – though I do find white miso sweetish so I don’t put it in a pesto with cashews
- Pesto can be frozen – covered ice-cube trays are ideal if you only use a little now and then
- Store in a thin-ish glass jar and cover the top with a layer of ev olive oil to seal in the freshness
- Using cashews makes the pesto a bit sweeter so I find it better to use a more bitter green with this nut
- It doesn’t have to just be leaves – perhaps try combinations like semi-sundried tomato, basil and almond or roasted red capsicum, basil, olive and hazelnut.