Pesto is awesome stuff: a great pasta sauce that doesn’t require cooking. It’s also a fantastic spread for bread and toast, and a tasty substitute for mayo or mustard in sandwiches. I make large batches of this stuff in the fall, while basil is in season, then keep it in jars in my freezer to sustain me through the long winter (though it’s better when freshly made).
Master the basic pesto recipe, and then you can experiment with it in all sorts of interesting directions until you find the combination that suits you best.
This recipe has its origins in How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman, a must-have resource for every amateur cook. It’s super-easy, and super-fast, to make, and all you need is a blender and a handful of ingredients.
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 tablespoons pine nuts
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 cups basil leaves, rinsed, dried, and stems removed, loosely packed
- Salt to taste
Put the garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and Parmesan cheese in a blender. Blend on low speed for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic and pine nuts are no longer in visible pieces and the mixture is smooth.
Add the basil leaves in batches, about 1/4 at a time. Use the handle end of a wooden spoon to push the basil into the mixture, then blend on low speed until incorporated.
Once all the basil has been added in, blend on high speed for 1-2 minutes until pesto is smooth and consistent.
Add salt to taste.
Notes and tips:
- Vary the garlic to your taste. The original recipe calls for only 1/2 a clove, but I usually use four. Remember that it’s easy to add more garlic later but impossible to remove it, so until you’ve made this recipe enough to know how much you want, start on the low end and work your way up. You can add more right at the end when you’re adjusting the salt, but remember to thoroughly blend it so you don’t get lumps.
- You can substitute walnuts for the pine nuts (which can be expensive), or mix the two.
- You could use Kraft parmesan cheese, but seriously, don’t. Get a block of parmesan in the cheese section of your local grocery store — it doesn’t have to be the expensive stuff — and grate it yourself. Or if you’re short on time find a tub of pre-grated parmesan in the deli section. The fresh stuff makes a huge difference in the taste of your pesto.
- Don’t add the salt until the very end, after you’ve tasted it. Parmesan cheese adds a lot of saltiness, so you won’t know until the end how much extra salt, if any, you’ll need.
- If it’s too thick, you can add more olive oil to thin it out.