By the time this goes live, we will be in Italy enjoying a little dolce vita. So, here is one I prepared earlier….
And, since I had been in an Italian mindset, what could be more appropo than a post on pesto, that quintessential Italian sauce. Although, you will not find the recipe below a traditional pesto. It is my variation, making use of the large crops of basil (both large leafed and Greek columnar varieties) and spearmint in my Greek garden.
Pestos (other than the standard Genoese basil-pine nut) can be made with many different fresh herbs – such as rocket (arugula), fennel fronds, mint, parsley – and many different nuts – such as cashew, walnut, almond, pistachio – in any combination that appeals to the taste buds. Then there are additions/alternatives like sun-dried tomatoes, pitted olives, artichoke hearts, alvocado, red pepper flakes…well, you get the picture. It is a flexible recipe and to some extent defined by the process of how it is made.
Pestsre, is an Italian verb that means to pound or crush. It is generally acknowledged to be the origin of the word pesto. This should clue you in to exactly how pesto is made – no fast fix, but laborious crushing and grinding all of the ingredients with a pestle in a mortar. Definitely a workout for the those arm muscles.
A while ago, the blog Serious Eats posted a recipe for pesto that included experiments on food processor versus mortar and pestle production of pesto. Result: uniform texture, but grainy on the palate versus less uniform texture, but silky smooth in the mouth. Mortar and pestle got the thumbs up.
Basil & Mint Pesto
Since mint is a strong herb, it can hold its own against the equally strong basil. The result is a flavourful combination – mainly basil, but with a zing. Almonds are fairly neutral in taste and a cheaper alternative to pine nuts. They are often used in similar Sicilian sauces.
This makes enough for 500g of pasta.
- 2 garlic cloves
- Pinch of coarse sea salt
- 50g basil (large leaf or in combination with other varieties)
- 5g spearmint (the variety generally sold in grocery stores, also known as common garden mint)
- 60ml (1/4 cup) extra virgin olive oil
- 20g blanched almonds
- 30g freshly grated Parmesan cheese
First clean and completely dry the basil and mint. Strip off the leaves to weigh. The leaves weigh very little, so many will be required to reach the amounts listed above.
Peel and roughly chop the garlic before putting it in the mortar with the sea salt. Begin pounding and crushing to produce a paste.
Add the basil and mint leaves a handful at a time, grinding them before adding more. Work this mixture until the leaves have broken down and mixed with the garlic paste.
Roughly chop the almonds. Alternately add the oil and the chopped almonds, a little at a time, pounding the nuts to break them down. They require a little more pounding than softer pine nuts.
Lastly, once you have a fairly smooth sauce, add and mix in the grated cheese if you are going to use the sauce right away. If you wish to freeze the pesto in small amounts for future use, omit the cheese at this point. Cheese can be added when the pesto is defrosted and ready to use.
For those of you who like it hot: this pesto is good with the addition of a sprinkling of hot chilli flakes.