5 oz basil
6 cloves of garlic
3 tbs walnuts
2 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated finely (roughly 1.5 cups loosely packed)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
I use this on everything from pasta to poultry. Ideally, you want to have a mortar and pestle. The purity of the pesto when it's made with the mortar and pestle is unparalleled. I will say that this recipe can be done in a blender or food processor, but I promise you it is SO much better this way. The texture is entirely different and it is just not the same.
By using the mortar and pestle to grind down the ingredients the flavours and aromas become intensified. The garlic, in particular, is transformed. By grinding down the garlic in the mortar, the flavour is more intense and sharp.
Typically, pesto is made with pine nuts, but I have always preferred the taste of walnuts. They are also a little more cost-effective. Given that this recipe calls for a pricey slab of cheese, any savings is a welcome one. I want to recommend that you stick to the Parmigiano-Reggiano and not stray, equally, grating the cheese yourself is best. Traditionally, Italian pesto was made with Pecorino but the Pecorino available here is just not the same. The Parmigiano-Reggiano is more balanced and less salty, it's a little more expensive but a worthy investment. When you are working with good fresh ingredients you will always end up with a more flavourful and aromatic product. The one place that you do not want to skimp here is on the formaggio!
Place garlic and salt in a mortar and pulverize with a pestle until it makes a paste. The rigidity of the salt will aid the pestle in breaking down that garlic. The aroma is intense and peppery and will burn a little if you get it directly on the skin.
Start placing bunches of basil in the mortar and breaking it down. Once that basil starts to break down, start adding another bunch until you've incorporated all of your basil. Keep working the paste until it has reached your preferred consistency. I like mine more coarse than smooth. Pro tip: Adding flowering basil will intensify the aroma of your pesto.
Add in your walnuts and start working them into your pesto until they are broken down into small pieces.
Start working in the Parmigiano-Reggiano in bunches similar to the way you introduced the basil. Once you've reached this point your mortar is likely getting full and it can get a little messy.
Finally, you may want to transfer the pesto paste into another little bowl before adding the olive oil. I find that the mortar is fairly full by this point and I prefer to mix in the olive oil in another little bowl to avoid making a mess.
Add to pasta, fish, poultry, potatoes, zucchini or store for another night.
This is best used fresh, but can be frozen for future use. You can keep it in your fridge for up to a week, just make sure that it is stored in an air-tight jar or Tupperware. A little trick of the trade is to pour a thin layer of olive oil on top to keep it from oxidizing. Otherwise, it will turn brown faster than an avocado.
To freeze your pesto, you want to make sure it is in an air-tight container with a thin layer of olive oil. It will keep for up to 6 months. You can also pour some pesto into an ice tray. This makes using the pesto for smaller recipes much easier. You can just grab as many cubes as you need and throw them in a pan with some zucchini noodles, chicken, soup, fish or whatever else you can think up. I would love to hear how you incorporated this pesto into a dish of your very own!
Want to keep it traditional? Swap out the walnuts for pine nuts.
Don't have a mortar and pestle? In a blender or food processor. You will want to blend/process them in stages. First, add the garlic, salt and walnuts and pulse until coarsely chopped. Then, add the basil and cheese and pulse until you have a green paste. Transfer contents to a bowl and mix in olive oil.
Vegan? This pesto has dairy (I know, I'm sorry). For a delicious vegan Pesto, I really like this one from the Minimalist Baker blog. Check her out!