Probably invented in Genova, Italy, where fragrant fields of basil grow abundantly, the aromatic herb leaves were originally made into a paste with a mortar and pestle, hence the name. Today we use the food processor or blender. Pesto is one of the world's great and most versatile sauces, and making it is quick and dirty. It is a classic on pasta, but it also makes a superb spread on toast for a fresh tomato sandwich, a scoop into any spaghetti sauce brings it to life and adds depth, and toss some in with potatoes and go straight to heaven (click here for the recipe for pesto potatoes).
The quality of the ingredients in this recipe is crucial. Fresh basil is essential. High quality extra virgin olive oil is essential. Good Parmesan cheese, real Parmigiano-Reggiano, not "parmesan" from the green toilet paper tube, is also essential.
Pine nuts have become obscenely expensive in recent years, especially the good ones from Italy, so you can substitute green pistaccios, sunflower seeds, unsalted cashews, and blanched skinless almonds if you wish.
Makes. About 1 cup
Takes. 15 minutes
3 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts
6 kalamata olives
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
3 large garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
About the basil. A little Thai basil or mint instead of 1/2 cup of the basil adds depth and complexity, but don't use a lot.
About the pine nuts. Pine nuts have become obscenely expensive in recent years, especially the good ones from Italy, so you can substitute green pistachios, sunflower seeds, unsalted cashews, and blanched skinless almonds if you wish.
About the olives. The original Genovese recipe doesn't include olives, but I don't care. They taste great. There are many ways to make love and as many ways to make pesto.
1) Remove the seeds from the olives. Coarsely chop the garlic first because blenders and food processors often don't do a good job on them.
2) Dump all the ingredients except the oil into a blender or food processor and let 'er rip until everything is chopped fine, but not homogeneous.
3) Slowly drizzle in the oil while the blades are on a low setting until, presto, pesto, you have a paste. The fragrance is heavenly. It can be kept in a tight jar in the fridge for a week before it starts to brown. If you need to keep it longer, top it with olive oil as a seal. Or freeze it. It freezes very well.