Sooo…spring is finally here! We’re having this incredible weather—it’s all warmth and magnolia scent. I feel like staying out really late and walking around with a huge smile! Gahhh…
I’m also craving all kinds of fresh green foods—asparagus season started yesterday and I can’t wait to get my hands on some! Before that though, I always make various kinds of pesto, because they taste so good with asparagus! So, I got some fresh herbs today and made some—the classic Pesto alla Genovese (obviously!) and also a tangy, strong-flavoured mint concoction. I always use a mortar and pestle for making pesto—you can pulse it in a food processor, but it just tastes different. Food processors tend to cut and mince and a pesto is by definition something crushed and beaten, not chopped. If you have a little more time, I’d advise you to break out the old mortar and try this method, but if you’re having a posh dinner party for 20 people, don’t bother. Power up your food processor and as long as you use fresh ingredients, it will taste amazing (unless you want to incorporate an upper body strength workout in your cooking routine, in which case just go with tradition )
I pick my basil straight from the plant—mine is green, but use purple if you have it in hand. The process is very simple—start with some garlic and salt, make a paste and then add the herbs. Now apply upper body strength until a coarse green paste emerges. Add the roughly chopped and lightly toasted nuts of your choice. I used pine nuts for my basil pesto and blanched almonds for the mint. The pine nuts give a luxurious, creamy texture to the paste. Next on the line—the classic recipe for basil pesto calls for a good handful of ground parmesan cheese, to give it a little zing.
After you’ve done the cheese, there’s only one ingredient left, the finishing touch, which is, of course,…dam dam dam extra virgin olive oil! This is a must for any kind of pesto, just add some until it looks rich and all around heavenly. Taste often and abundantly 😉 You can add a little splash of lemon to lift it up a bit, if you suddenly feel it’s become too rich. Toss it with noodles for a classic pesto dish or spread it on bread, for example on this Beet, Beer & Cheddar Mock-baguette. It’s criminally good!
For the mint pesto use the same method—garlic and salt first, mint second, crush, ground, pound, then add toasted and chopped nuts and a little bit of the secret ingredient, lemon zest. Proceed with olive oil and a generous splash of lemon juice, this hearty mint pesto can take it. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, crumble some feta in the mortar. Feta goes amazingly well with mint and lemon. Ta da! You’re done.
Mint pesto is a terrific accompaniment for lamb, chicken and…asparagus of course!
Put your pesto in a jar and keep it in the fridge. It’s supposed to keep for at least 2 weeks, although I’ve never tested this particular limit. Mine always tends to disappear in a couple of days…hmm…
I always feel so righteous after making pesto—all this fresh produce, the mortar and pestle, all trying to give justice to this traditional Italian recipe. Holy me!
Honestly, guys, I don’t think it gets better than this!
Mortar & Pestle Pesto—Basil or Mint
- 3 handfuls fresh basil
- 1 handful/ 50g pine nuts
- 50g parmesan
- 1/2 clove garlic
- olive oil
- lemon juice to taste
- 3 handfuls fresh mint
- 50g blanched almonds
- 1 clove garlic
- olive oil
- lemon zest
- lemon juice
- Put garlic and salt in the mortar and crush.
- Add fresh herbs and pound and crush until you have a paste.
- Lightly toast the nuts in a pan. Chop them and add them to the paste.
- Keep beating until you have a creamy texture.
- Add a handful of parmesan and stir to incorporate.
- Add olive oil. Stir to incorporate.
- Add lemon zest and lemon juice.
- Store in a jar in the fridge.