Purists make pesto by hand using a mortar and pestle. Pesto is derived from the Latin word “pesta, which means “to pound, to crush.” They say that hand-pounding pesto keeps the flavors distinct and it releases more of the oil from the basil, so the pesto is more flavorful.
My husband and I have raced to see who could make pesto faster- me, with a mortar and pestle; he with a food processor. The rule was it had to include cleaning and putting away the food processor. I’m pretty sure I won, but he may remember it differently.
Either way, you can whip up a batch in less time than it takes to walk the dog around the block.
I like to make my pesto with pistachios. It gives it a great color. My husband likes to make his with toasted pecans and jalapenos. Yu-uum. You can follow the basic recipe and experiment with different ingredients.
Here’s what you need:
2-3 cups loosely packed fresh basil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/4- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pistachio nuts
2-3 garlic cloves
a dash or two of cayenne pepper
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
When hand pounding, start off pounding the garlic and coarse salt, then add about 1/3 of the nuts and 1/3 of the basil. I keep one hand sort of cupped around the top of the mortar to keep the nuts from flying out. Keep adding the nuts and basil. Once those are pounded to a very course paste, stir in the oil and cheese last.
With a food processor, just put everything in and give it a whirl.
Chopped basil will oxidize and turn brown. To prevent this, cover the top with a thin layer of olive oil before you store it in the fridge (it will keep, covered with plastic wrap, for about a week).
Pesto is great, of course, tossed in pasta, but is equally as good on chicken, pork, fish or pizza.
I like to make a big batch and freeze it. You can freeze pesto in ice cube trays. Then store the frozen cubes in a bag so you can grab a few when you need them. I usually make small pesto balls (like drop cookies), freeze them on a cookie sheet, then throw them in a freezer bag.