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On the virtues of pesto

Written by Food

Lockdown has got us all experimenting and trying out things that we’ve always wanted to do before but never had the time. Some people are taking up yoga, some are learning a new language, and some are channelling all their energy into tending for their garden. Many, however, are turning to their cookbooks for inspiration, as evidenced by the recent phenomena of pictures of homemade banana bread flooding our Instagram feeds. I, however, have seen lockdown as the perfect opportunity to finally tick something off my culinary bucket-list that has sat there for as long as I can remember: I made pesto.

Pesto is a kitchen staple for many students. Supermarket own-brand jars last years and can sit in your cupboard patiently waiting for their day to shine. Pesto is often served with pasta, either hot or cold – making it ideal for packed lunches on campus, but can also be used to stuff chicken or coat fish and additionally goes well with potatoes. Essentially, pesto is cheap and incredibly versatile, and supermarkets nowadays offer so many varieties – with tomato, red pepper, chilli, and even kale and ricotta (which I wouldn’t recommend) – that you would be hard-pressed to not find a variant that you like. Even if you are allergic to pine nuts or fancy something with a more distinct flavour, variants with hazelnuts and cashew nuts are available.

Needless to say, I love pesto, but was always intrigued about making it myself. And so, this lockdown, I gave it a go.

Pesto is more complex to make than houmous – but only slightly. The basic recipe only uses five ingredients, however some of these – like pine nuts – you will have to buy especially. I went for a trusty BBC Good Food recipe, which I slightly adapted to the quantities of ingredients I had. Here’s how I got on.

Image: Grace Dean

Ingredients (makes approximately six portions)

  • 35g pine nuts (these are very expensive)
  • 30g fresh basil
  • 35g parmesan or vegetarian alterative
  • 90ml olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • A pinch of salt if you fancy it

Steps

  1. Heat a frying pan over a low heat, and when it is hot add the pine nuts. You need to fry them dry, shaking them occasionally, until they are golden. They burn very easily, so keep your eye on them.
  2. Crush the pine nuts. You can do this using a food processor or blender, but I used a pestle and mortar to grind them. I have also eaten pesto with whole pine nuts before; if you prefer this texture then leave them whole.
  3. Add the basil, parmesan and garlic to the pestle or mixer and blend until you reach your desired consistency.
  4. Add the oil gradually, stirring constantly, until you reach a consistency that you are happy with. This also depends on how you are planning on serving the pesto – if you are cooking it alongside chicken, for example by stuffing a chicken breast, you want it a thick consistency so that it stays put and also as the chicken will release water itself while it cooks. I personally added quite a lot of oil because the garlic was somewhat overpowering.

I chose to serve mine with pasta, roasted peppers and flatbread which worked incredibly well.

Last modified: 27th April 2020

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