How to make pesto verde
Some years ago when I had a 9-5 job, I was wandering around my local supermarket after work looking for something new to try for supper. My main criteria were that it had to be (a) easy and (b) quick, because I was tired and didn’t want to spend all evening cooking! So when I walked down the pasta aisle, my attention was grabbed by a display consisting of jars of green pesto (otherwise known as pesto verde or pesto genovese, after the region of Italy where it comes from).
I duly bought one, took it home and followed the instructions on the jar (which weren't exactly difficult). However, I was hugely disappointed by the taste, which was kind of medicinal, for want of a better word. I gave the rest of the jar to a neighbour, and struck pesto off my personal menu.
Imagine my surprise recently when I was served pasta with home made pesto at a friend's house. It was yummy, with a subtle, nutty flavour and a much nicer texture than the stuff in the jar I'd bought. My friend's recipe involved fresh chillis and was quite feisty (she called it "pesto with attitude"), but with a bit of experimenting I found that chilli-free pesto can be every bit as good.
The ingredients below will make enough pesto genovese to serve two people if you want a light lunch or a starter. I recommend using a food processor/blender.
However, if you don't own a blender you can pop the pine nuts in a small plastic freezer bag, place them on a chopping board and bash them with a rolling pin or similar. You will then have to grate the parmesan as finely as possible and chop all your other ingredients really finely too before mixing them together.
Top tip for saving money when making pesto
Olive oil is beyond a lot of people's budgets and if you don't use it very often, you might find that it goes off before you finish the bottle. The good news is that when making pesto, you can substitute another good quality vegetable oil for olive oil. The pesto shown in the photo above was prepared using sunflower oil.
For the pesto, you will need:
- A tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 50 g (1/3 of a cup or just under 2 oz) pine nuts
- About ten large fresh basil leaves
- A small handful of rocket leaves
- A large clove of puréed garlic (I like to do mine by hand using the finest setting on a grater)
- Grated parmesan to taste.
Cook the pasta in boiling water and as it's cooking, make the pesto as follows. Toast the pine nuts by dry frying them. Keep stirring them as they fry, until they go a bit brown around the edges. Set up the food processor and add the pine nuts, olive oil, basil/ rocket leaves and garlic. Use the "pulse" setting to get things started, and then blitz until you get a stiff, grainy paste. You don't need it to be totally smooth; a bit of "texture" is actually a bonus. If the mixture comes out too dry, add a bit of extra olive oil and blitz for a bit longer.
When the pasta is done, drain and serve with the pesto (mix it in until each strand or piece of pasta is coated with the pesto. Add the grated parmesan and salt/pepper to taste.
If you're gluten-intolerant, you can try using rice as an accompaniment instead of pasta. Walnuts are also a cheaper substitute for pine nuts, which is worth bearing in mind.
© Empress Felicity December 2009
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