Origins of Pesto
Traditional pesto has its origins in Genoa in the Italian province of Liguria. The name describes pesto as the word translates as ‘pounded.’ It is used on pasta, the favorite in Genoa being trenette, a ribbon pasta. It is also used on gnocchi and as a flavoring in soups. When used in soups, pesto is added at the last minute. Putting pesto in ahead would cook away the freshness of the basil. It can be compared to a rouille floating on top of a soup.
The heart and soul of a traditional pesto is basil. And herein lies the rub -the basil grown in native Genoa is of the variety that does not have a tarragon over taste. For this reason, a traditional pesto cannot be reproduced to its full glory outside the region. Even those using the old-fashioned method of grinding with a mortar and pestle will not achieve quite the same taste as the Genoan pesto.
How to Make and Store Pesto
Machine-Blended Pesto versus Mortar & Pestle Pesto
If you told a Genovese that you made pesto in a food processor, the die-hard traditionalist would grow faint at heart and swoon away. Pesto is valued for its texture as well as its taste and a strict traditionalist would say that only a mortar and pestle can do the job properly. Ingredients in a mortar and pestle are pounded together. They have crushed while a blender or food processor slices and produces a less blended flavor. Basil will taste fresher in a mortar and pestle, its sharpness more piquant.
We agree with the traditionalists, but we also suffer from that particular malady called “no time to cook,” an unfortunate aspect of our contemporary lives. Pounding time is not easy to get these days and so we turn to blenders and food processors to make pesto.
How to make mortar and pestle pesto:
You should start with roughly chopped basil (or spinach, or whatever herbs you are using), garlic, salt and roughly chopped nuts. One way to hurry the nuts to the right consistency is to roll them between two sheets of waxed paper with a rolling pin. When this mixture is pounded to a rough paste, add the cheese, and pound, pound, pound until well blended. Add the olive oil to the pesto a little at a time pounding with the pestle until each addition of the oil is blended.
How to make machine processed pesto:
The key to processing with a machine is vigilance. Keep your eye on the pesto so you can stop the processing before the pesto turns into a puree. Never, never, never puree pesto. With a great deal of experimentation, we have found that pulsing the machine, so you don’t go past the chunky stage and end up with a puree, is vital to making a good pesto in a machine.
The measure of oil you use will always vary a little, contingent on how dry the nuts are, how moist or dry the cheese is. No recipe can give you an accurate measure.
Storing Blended Pesto
Pesto is a great keeper and can be stored. Simply place in a jar and allow the oil to rise to the top. If it doesn’t add a little oil to seal the top. Keep pesto in the refrigerator. The pesto will have so many uses and will enliven so many dishes that you won’t really store it for too much time.
Pesto Comes of Global Age
The Genoans used their famous basil because it was there and it was tasty. Though pesto developed in their strict recipe, the globe opened, and the availability of ingredients has inspired many cooks. Today we use pesto in adventurous ways, and we create a sauce that may not be a traditional pesto but is savory and enhances the food we eat. Try every pesto variety that you find. If you like heat, the addition of hot peppers is your type of pesto; if pignolia nuts are out of the budget, walnuts or pecans make a savory variety. Use your pesto on any variety on seafood – a perfect marriage; stuff it into the pocket of a steak or flavor a meat loaf with pesto. Experiment with different types of soup whether hot or cold. Pesto will grace a multitude of dishes.
peppers is your type of pesto; if pignolia nuts are out of the budget, walnuts or pecans make a savory variety. Use your pesto on any variety on seafood – a perfect marriage; stuff it into the pocket of a steak or flavor a meatloaf with pesto. Experiment with different types of soup whether hot or cold. Pesto will grace a multitude of dishes.
- classic pesto in food processor
- classic pesto using mortar and pestle
- classic pesto genovese #2 (mortar and pestle)
- pesto ericino (Sicilian variation of Pesto)
- chipotle and ancho chiles pesto
- cooked pesto
- green olive pesto
- mixed greens and herbs pesto
- pecan pesto
- cilantro pesto
- sun-dried tomato pesto
- walnut pesto
- wine and pesto sauce
- dried fig and toasted almond “pesto” – from Viana La Place
Recipes Using Pesto
- appetizer – zucchini pesto quiche
- appetizer – cheese and pesto mold
- beans – bean salad with pesto
- beef – pesto meat loaf
- beef – pesto stuffed steaks (grilled)
- chicken – grilled chicken salad with cilantro pesto
- chicken – quick pesto chicken pesto mayonnaise
- gnocchi with pesto
- gnocchi – ricotta and pesto gnocchi in roasted garlic broth
- pasta -ditalini with green beans and pesto
- pasta with pesto and chicken
- pasta – pesto-stuffed manicotti with fresh tomato-vegetable sauce
- pasta – shell pasta with pesto and vegetables
- pasta – pesto tortellini with shrimp and pesto sauce
- pasta – penne with sun-dried tomato, cherry tomatoes and pesto
- pizza – pesto pizza
- pizza – pesto pizza two
- pizza – pesto pizza three
- vegetables – pesto potato salad
- vegetables – mixed grilled vegetable pasta with pesto cream sauce
- vegetables – cherry tomatoes with minted pesto
- seafood – scallops with pesto
- seafood – scallop and pesto salad
- soup – classic genovese minestrone with pesto
- soup – variation on classic genovese minestrone with pesto
- soup – chilled zucchini, two bean and pesto soup