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August 30, 2010

Upon spying on my housemate’s luscious green bushy basil plant and being a thrifty girl these days wanting to save money on groceries, I couldn’t resist preparing my very own jar of green basil pesto. Well, check out all these basil leaves, just begging to be used, pity my housemate hasn’t much of a culinary inclination but hooray for me as I love Italian cuisine.

Pesto is commonly used these days by stirring it through cooked pasta but can be spread over bruschetta, roasted vegetables or baked fish.  For those of you who are foodies, there are numerous types and varieties of basil used in South East Asian cooking and as well Italian.

The word pesto is derived from Latin and means “to pound or crush” due to the customary action of using a pestle and mortar to prepare the paste. Pesto originated from Genoa in Northern Italy and is known as “Pesto alla Genovese”. The classic recipe includes the fresh sweet basil variety, garlic, salt, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil and grated Italian hard cheese such as parmesan reggiano or a combination of this with something like grana padano or pecorino.

If you’re feeling lazy or short on time, you can whizz the ingredients together in a food processor and gradually add the oil until you get the right consistency  or you can chop up the basil, pine nuts and garlic before pounding them using a mortar and pestle. The latter produces a much more rougher texture and isn’t as smooth as using a processor. It is worth pounding it yourself as the lovely aromas of basil and garlic waft around the kitchen as you continually crush the pesto mix.

You may have noticed that there are many variations of pesto available ranging from red pesto which has sundried tomatoes and or roasted red peppers in there. Others have walnuts, cashews or almonds and some substitute sunflower oil instead of olive oil presumably to cut costs. Surprisingly easy to make yourself and significantly better tasting than some shop bought varieties. At least this way, if you prepare it yourself, you have control over what ingredients you use and nothing beats homemade pesto – bellissimo!

Classic Basil Pesto

Makes approximately 200g

50g fresh sweet basil leaves, roughly chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled, roughly sliced

25g pine nuts

Approximately 125ml extra virgin olive oil

4 tbsp grated parmesan reggiano cheese

4 tbsp grated pecorino cheese

Coarse sea salt

  1. Add a pinch of coarse sea salt and the garlic to a mortar and crush the garlic to a paste with a pestle.
  2. Add the basil to the mortar gradually and pound with the pestle until the leaves are crushed to a rough paste.
  3. Add the pine nuts and again crush with the pestle.
  4. Add half of the olive oil followed by the parmesan cheese and mix with a spoon. Add the pecorino cheese, drizzle in more olive oil gradually and mix again until the pesto is looking gooey. Don’t worry if the texture is rough, however you should end up with a semi-liquid consistency.
  5. Taste the pesto and season with more salt if necessary, pecorino cheese can be quite salty depending on the variety used.
  6. Store the pesto in a clean screw top jar and place in the refrigerator until required. The pesto should be fine for a couple of weeks, if it looks a bit dry, just add a bit of olive oil to cover the top of it.
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