Just over a year ago, the pandemic hit us. Looking back, I think that my closest ally to cope with all the stress and never-ending twists and turns has been cooking – and so, despite thenever-ending pile of dishes in the sink.
I’ve really enjoyed developing new “signature recipes” – some easy go-to dishes to cheer me up on a weekday night, from a quick carbonara pasta to a hearty lentil dhal. For me, the real saviour has been making homemade pesto. It takes very little time to prepare and will make you travel to the Mediterranean in just a few mouthfuls.
To make pesto, you only need a handful of ingredients: basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. However, the great thing about pesto is its versatility. You can easily tweak the recipe according to what you have in your kitchen, what you find at the market and what is in season.
No basil? Use a mix of herbs such as mint, parsley or rosemary… the more, the merrier. You can also use some rocket or, for a perfect zero waste recipe, carrot tops (just remove thick stems) and beet greens (blanch them a few minutes and strain them well before using).
No pine nuts? Use some almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts or even, like Italian chef Massimo Bottura, some fresh breadcrumbs which will add some extra flavour and body to the sauce – and avoid tossing stale bread!
No parmesan? It works really well with other cheeses such as pecorino but also British cheeses such as Kirkham’s Lancashire from Neal’s Yard Dairy.
Feeling hungry? Add some green beans and diced potatoes and cook them with the pasta for a proper traditional Genovese pesto.
Making pesto couldn’t be easier: once you know the trick, you will never buy some at the supermarket again! It only takes a couple of minutes to prepare, so you can make it while the pasta is cooking following these easy steps:
- Start by halving a garlic clove and rub its cut sides along the inside of your blender or food processor.
- Blend the herbs and the nuts in the food processor, then add the grated parmesan and finish off with the extra virgin olive oil. I tend to use the following ratio: about 3 volumes of herbs, 1 volume of nuts (or breadcrumbs), 1 volume of grated parmesan, 3 volumes of extra virgin olive oil and a bit of salt.
- Make sure to keep some of the starch-rich pasta water and add some to the mix to help emulsify the pesto into a creamy sauce. Then mix together with the pasta and serve immediately, without putting the pasta back on the hob.
The pesto sauce goes really well with some fusilli, gnocchi, spaghetti or trofie. Don’t be afraid of making more: it can be kept in the fridge for a few days – cover it with olive oil in a tight container or a jar. You can also freeze it in ice cube trays and use it later in a minestrone soup – another great comfort food on a cold winter day.
Text and Images (C) Adrien Giacchero
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