During a stay with a friend’s family in Provence this summer, we learned first-hand how to make pesto like an Italian grandmother. Unlike the Italians, our French friends prefer their pesto without “pignoli”, what the Italians called pine nuts, but that could be why this was hands down the best pesto we’ve ever had. If you’ve ever had authentic home made pesto in Provence you know that pesto in North America really isn’t the same thing. One difference is the absence of nuts as a base, but another reason is the preference for hand chopping the ingredients which allows for definition of the mixed ingredients. While pesto could be made in a few minutes with an electric blender or food processor, the result is an emulsified creamy paste. It is well worth the 20 – 30 minutes it could take to chop the ingredients by hand. A mortar and pestle is recommended but if you don’t have one, a mezzaluna or sharp knife will do. In the typical Mediterranean style there is no official recipe, but here is a guideline.
6 cloves garlic, crushed with a garlic press or finely minced
2 large bunches of basil, about 2 cups loosely chopped give or take
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
Fresh grated parmesan or pecorino cheese
Fresh cilantro, parsley, mint, sage
Crushed walnuts or almonds
- Using a mortar and pestle, mix crushed garlic with salt into a paste.
- Slowly add chopped basil and pound together.
- Slowly add drizzles of olive oil and more of the basil until a thoroughly mixed paste forms.
- Serve over fresh pasta or gnocchi. Add water or more oil for volume as needed. Add fresh grated parmesan or pecorino cheese if desired.
Optional additions: crushed almonds or walnuts; fresh cilantro, Italian parsley, mint or sage, squeeze of fresh lemon.
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