London is enjoying a heat wave at the moment. A prolonged one. In fact, anyone outside of the UK might even call it ‘summer’, however those of us that live here never dare mention the word as we rarely get a summer. Every year we wait and we hope and every year we stare out the window at grey, miserable skies and weep. Well, we don’t really weep but you know what I mean. We weep on the inside. This year is an exception. Hallelujah! We have now had 2 weeks of unrelenting sun…every day! No intermittent days of rain or cold weather. It has been sunny and hot every day and it’s set to continue for a other few weeks. It’s amazing. For once, you can wake up in the morning knowing it’s going to be hot. You know all you need to wear is a summer dress and flip flops. I’ve even stopped taking a cardigan out with me, ‘just in case’. I know, I really know how to live on the edge. In fact, I’m even starting to moan about it being too hot. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in ages, even with a fan directed all me through the night.
Anyway, I digress. I started talking about the weather, not only because it’s a British phenomenon and everyone is happy but because my herb garden is thriving in this heat. My mint, sage, thyme, oregano and basil have exploded.
My parsley seems to be suffering a bit but that’s ok, I don’t really like parsley anyway. So last night I decided to make good use of my basil and make pesto.
Pesto is ridiculously easy to make and tastes so much better than the stuff you buy in jars. The benefit of making it yourself is that you can tailor it to your own taste. If you like it cheesy, add more cheese, if you like it more fragrant, use less cheese and more basil. I like it quite nutty (I have a slight obsession with pine nuts) so I like to add lots of toasted pine nuts. I also like it to have lots of texture so I don’t beat it to a pulp. But if you like it smooth, you can of course make it smooth, its entirely up to you.
Pesto consists of just 4 ingredients…basil, oil, cheese and pine nuts.
Lots of recipes suggest using just parmesan however I like to use pecorino too. The delicate flavour of the pecorino works beautifully with the basil and its a lot less salty than parmesan. You can also add some garlic but I sometimes feel the garlic can be a little overpowering for such a simple dish. If you want to add garlic, I would suggest the maximum should be one clove. If I do add it I only add half a clove, and I’m a garlic lover.
For this recipe I just chucked the ingredients in so I’m guessing the weights.
3 handfuls of basil
1 handful of pine nuts
25g parmesan, grated
25g pecorino, grated
I started by toasting the pine nuts in a dry frying pan. Toasting pine nuts really brings out their flavour, its definitely worth doing. Keep your eye on these as they burn easily. When they start turning a golden brown colour like this, take them off the heat and transfer them to a plate to cool down.
Then start to make the pesto. You can do this the traditional way with a pestle and mortar or in a food processor or blender. I started off in the blender as my mortar isn’t huge and I couldn’t fit the basil in. Plus it does take some beating and it was too hot for any strenuous exercise last night.
If you’re adding garlic, you can start pulping that in a mortar, just add a little sea salt to it then you can transfer it to your food processor/blender. Add the pine nuts and pulse. Then add the basil, a handful at a time and pulse. Add your grated cheese, pulse and then add the olive oil a little at a time. You can add as little or as much as you like, it depends how ‘loose’ you like your pesto.
I added a little oil in the blender and then transferred the mixture to my mortar. I tasted it, decided I wanted more cheese so added a little more. There is no need to add any salt as the parmesan provides the saltiness. And that’s it!
It takes about 10 minutes to make in total. To quote Ina Garten, how easy is that? The end result should taste unbelievable fresh and fragrant, with a nuttiness and a sharp saltiness from the cheese. You’ll wonder why you have been buying it in jars all these years.
Traditionally you’re supposed to mix pesto through trofie pasta but I only had spaghetti in the cupboard so I cooked that, stirred through the pesto and topped with some more parmesan and a few chopped toasted pine nuts. Perfect!