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Pesto Revisited

I posted last year about making pesto in the food processor. I’m writing now to say that I’ve changed my ways.

I use a large mortar and pestle instead and make it by hand. I really enjoy slowing down for a few minutes and methodically grinding the ingredients together while I take in their fragrance. I feel like I appreciate the final product more.

My preference for ritual aside, pesto made by hand covers pasta much better and has a better blending of flavors. See Dan Gritzer’s post on Serious Eats for a side-by-side comparison. His was the first article I found when looking for a mortar and pestle pesto recipe after I bought a huge granite one to make guacamole in. Dan’s recipe is a great place to start experimenting from.

The exact recipe changes every time, but the method stays the same:

  1. Work the garlic and salt into a paste.
  2. Crush the nuts (pine nuts, walnuts, pistachios, or whatever you want to experiment with) and work them into the paste.
  3. Grind the basil against the edge of the mortar a handful at a time.
  4. Add the cheese and olive oil.

Here are some ideas for experimentation:

  • Try different varieties of garlic. I like Rocambole and Spanish Roja.
  • Try garlic scapes in late spring
  • Things you can substitute for the pine nuts: Walnuts, pistachios, or pumpkin seeds
  • Try other herbs with (or in place of) basil: Parsley, cilantro, arugula
  • Test out different hard cheeses in place of the Pecorino and Parmesan
  • Use different olive oils and note the flavors they add: Peppery, buttery, green

If you are in the market for a usable mortar and pestle (not one of those tchotchkes you see at Target), this is the 12lb behemoth I use.

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