When is a pesto not a pesto? When its made from every other vegetable on the planet except basil. Some folk argue that any nut, vegetable product, garlic and oil can be processed into a pesto. Witness artichoke pesto, pumpkin pesto, coriander and cashew pesto, beetroot pesto, mint pesto and so the list goes on. What is it about this word, pesto, and why is it applied to every paste, dip, condiment and spread on the supermarket shelves and in cookbooks? Pesto comes from the verb pestare, to pound, as does the pestello, or pestle used to pound it. When we think of pesto, Liguria and Genova come to mind, followed by thoughts of fragrant basil, pine nuts, garlic, and a good parmigiana or pecorino or both. Lets preserve the word for the real thing and use good old English words, such as paste, for the imposters.
A simple pesto recipe for the basil season.
2 Tablespoons pine nuts
4 small garlic cloves, peeled
1/4 teaspoon course sea salt
one large bunch of basil, leaves stripped from stalks
1/2 cup or more of extra virgin olive oil
finely grated parmesan, grana padano parmigiana, around 1/2 cup or more.
Add the first three ingredients to the food processor. Grind to a paste, then add basil leaves. When sufficiently mushed up, add oil slowly to mix while running motor. Add parmigaina to taste by hand. Taste, season, adjust with more oil or cheese. Serve with pasta, add to arancini, toss with steamed green beans or new potatoes, drizzle over grilled fish.