Monday, 11 August 2008

Teach Yourself Latin

We love a bit of pesto in our house. That glistening green sauce of basil plopped and stirred into pasta. It's the taste of summer. I hate, hate, hate the jar stuff though, it tastes, and looks, as if you've scraped the mould off a cellar wall and added cheese. No, it has to be fresh and the freshest comes from making your own. It is eminently easy to buy decent fresh pesto in most supermarkets these days for not very much at all, but I like to make my own at least once every summer, it makes me feel like I belong in a Dolce and Gabbana advertisement.

So, every summer I attempt to grow enough basil specially to make it. Last year, because the weather was appalling my crop failed. This year because the weather is appalling still, I've grown it on the bathroom windowsill in an old apple crate. Bringing the crate into the house resulted in me getting a scar on my nose, so I was horrified to find when I got back from a trip to visit my mother-in-law that my plants were covered in whitefly. I'd foolishly left the window open a smidge to keep the air fresh. So the last few weeks have had me frantically spraying with a mild solution of fairy liquid in the hope of saving my dream, to little effect. Having failed to get rid of the blasted sticky mites I decided that today I would have to crop a little early and make the sauce before my efforts were reduced to limp nothings.

What a ghastly job it proved to be. Fishing for enough firm shiny leaves amongst the goo to get a decent amount. But I managed it thank goodness. A scarred nose and no pesto for the second year running would have sent me over the edge.

I use the recipe from Anna Del Conte's book The Gastronomy of Italy, but because I can't easily get peccorino cheese I use all parmesan. It's not quite as good, and certainly not as authentic but it's still better than supermarket sauce. I also toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan rather than on a tray in the oven. This because using the oven, in these days of energy efficiency, seems ridiculously extravagant. The result is the same, you just have to be a bit more careful not to burn them. Also, I make it in a food processor but if you feel that using machines is an inauthentic step too far you can bash it all to a paste in a mortar with a pestle. And there is something to be said for doing it that way. You probably use up more calories making the sauce than you get from eating it, for one.

If you have any basil and would like to make pesto easily and deliciously, here is my augmented recipe:

20g of pine nuts
50g of fresh basil leaves, the bigger and glossier the better
1 clove of garlic, peeled
a pinch of sea salt
6 tablesoons freshly grated parmesan cheese (or 4 + 2 of grated pecorino if you don't live in a food desert like me)
120ml mild extra virgin olive oil.

For the full on Italian dream experience ensure you are barefoot and wearing a tight fitting, floral tea dress, and flicky eye-liner. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until they are speckled with brown. It will only take a few minutes, so don't be tempted to abandon them. Put the basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt in a food processor or blender and whiz to a paste. Once you have your paste, transfer it to your most Italian looking bowl, add the grated cheese stirring it all together, then add the oil in a trickle as you beat it with a wooden spoon. To eat it just add a tablespoon or so to a bowl of hot pasta or gnocchi. This should easily serve four. I rather like it spread thickly on toasted sourdough bread and topped with tomatoes too, so as usual I made double the quantity.


Mary Witzl said...

This is very close to the recipe I use -- I use a combination of walnuts and pine nuts, more garlic, and a little less olive oil. I toast the nuts in a pan on the stove too, for the reasons you have cited and because they are easy to keep an eye on that way. I've made pesto in the blender, but it's a pain in the neck to scrape it all out.

When we move, I've got five varieties of basil growing just now and you are welcome to come and take them! I had an incredible crop last year and I still can't figure out how it happened. We grew them all in our leaky conservatory and the white flies must have gotten eaten up by all the slugs...

Dr Maroon said...

yeah, yeah, eh, basil, great, oils of Pisa, wonderful, em pinenuts from Aviemore, yadda yadda yadda,
W(when). T. F. does the Latin come in?
I'm waiting here ready to go with my pluperfects, 5th declensions and I'm getting a cookery class?
I want my money back.

Eryl Shields said...

Mary ~ I've never tried using different nuts. Now I'm thinking almonds could work well.

When are you off?

Doc ~ Start with the basics, a la Nietzsche, no point knowing the language if you haven't got the food and clothes right. Do you have a tea dress?

Kim Ayres said...

Basil - bleargh.
Pesto - double bleargh.

However, I know some people (including my wife and kids) love the stuff, so kudos to you.

debra said...

I l-o-v-e pesto---and I am the only one in the household who does. I use basil, walnuts, pecans or pinenuts, olive oil (a bit), garlic (lots), and parmesan or romano cheese. I've also used black olives. But I can't tell you how much of each since I seldom use recipes. Pretty tasty.

PI said...

Basil is notoriously hard to grow and spraying with fairy liquid? That's why God made jars.
Only teasing - I know yours will taste delightful - it is such a strong flavour isn't it but the combo of tomatoes and basil is unique and the addition of pine nuts make it poetic. I wonder if Kim has upchucked yet?

The World According To Me said...

Like it!

I must remember to be bare foot and wear a floral dress when I make it!

I agree - scraped mould from the cellar wall is not a good taste or look!

Eryl Shields said...

Kim ~ you must have trouble buying a sandwich or going out for anything to eat these days, pesto seems to be drizzled around or spread on everything. Although I love fresh pesto I don't want it on my roast vegetables or on a plate of lamb chops.

Debra ~ olives would take it to a new league. A kind of cross between tapenade - love it! - and pesto. Mmm...

Pat ~ hard to grow, but worth the effort. I never had any problem when I lived in Bedford though I had to water it constantly. Here there just isn't enough sun. Poor Kim, you have a cruel streak!

The world ~ dress really does make a difference to the whole experience. A bit of Paulo Conti helps too.

savannah said...

had penne and pesto for supper tonight, sugar! xoxo

(wow, you put me on speed dial!...thanks!!!)

Eryl Shields said...

Savannah~ it doesn't take me long to decide I've found a woman after my own heart!

Conan Drumm said...

Delishable, by which I mean yum.

Carole said...

Okay, I will try to make some, but I will wait until next year so I can grow my own basil. I have never ever even tasted pesto, but you make it sound lovely.

Eryl Shields said...

Conan ~ You're back!

Carole ~ If you like basil you'll like pesto, but if like Kim you don't like basil...

Mary Witzl said...

All too soon, Eryl! I'll try to call you.

Kanani said...

I agree. There's nothing like fresh pesto! I use pine nuts too... hmmm... and now I"m hungry.