Monday, January 26, 2009

Home-made Basil Pesto

Home-made Basil Pesto
Home Cooking

I first learnt about the existence of pesto in high school when I'd go to cafes frequently with my mum. I didn't know what it was made of or what it really meant but I knew that menu items that mentioned pesto in the description usually tasted pretty damn good. Plus, I was going through a phase where I liked feeling superior to everyone (i.e. my non-English speaking grandparents) by ordering beyond the ordinary. Even these days, I feel unjustifiably pleased with myself when I discover that I can understand most of the fancy, foreign, culinary lingo on menus.

It's all a learning process. Terms like confit, terrine, dukkah etc. I can't say I really mind giving everything a go and upping my food vocab.

Maybe every other food fanatic on the planet already knew but I only found out that pesto was usually made from basil and pine nut very recently. When I decided I wanted a pesto base for my lamb pizza, I decided to make my own.

Rather than strictly following a recipe, I sort of read a few pesto recipes and took common elements. I'll supply a generalized recipe and the steps I took to make my pesto but please keep in mind that I was very rough with my quantities.

Basil Pesto

Makes roughly 1 cup

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted in frying pan till brown
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1-2 tbsp lemon juice to taste [optional]
  • extra virgin olive oil (enough to suspend the pesto to your desired consistency)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Note: If you're using a food processor, simply pop the basil, garlic, pine nuts and cheese into the unit and pulse a few times until gooey. Add the lemon juice and oil through the funnel until you achieve the desired consistency. For spreading on toast, you'd want it thicker so... less oil. For pasta or pizza sauce, or as a dipping sauce, you might want a bit more oil.

1. I went old school and used a mortar pestle. The order in which I added ingredients was my method of making the grinding process as easy as possible. First, pound the basil leaves, garlic and pine nuts to a pulp. If you finely chopped these, it should make life easier.2. Once it's a herby paste, add cheese and keep pounding. The cheese doesn't take long to get obliterated beyond recognition so this is when you add the liquids: lemon juice and olive oil.3. Season at the end and taste to make sure flavors balance well

Pesto is uber versatile. You can store it in a jar in the fridge - not sure how long though. Don't store in your pantry. I've done that with store-bought pesto and after not very long, it went white and furry (such an unpleasant surprise).
Once you've got your pesto, you can make lovely bruschetta, pasta or do what I did and slap it on your pizza base.

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