Where did pesto come from?
Pesto originates from Genoa in northern Italy. The word 'pesto' actually comes from the Italian word 'pestare' which means 'to pound or crush.
Pesto has been made for hundreds of years using a mortar and pestle to grind ingredients together to form a paste-like substance. It actually dates all the way back to ancient Rome, when Romans would pound walnuts together with garlic and herbs.
Nowadays, pesto 'Genovese' is most popular, which is made with the base ingredients of basil, pine nuts and parmesan.
1 clove garlic
30g pine nuts, lightly toasted
Sea-salt flakes, to season
70g basil leaves (about 2 bunches)
150ml extra virgin olive oil
40g pecorino, finely grated
40g parmesan, finely grated
Put garlic, pine nuts and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
Add . of the basil and drizzle with a little of the oil. Pulse until roughly chopped.
Add remaining basil and remaining oil, then pulse again.
Add pecorino and parmesan, then process until a smooth paste forms. Season with salt. For serving suggestions, see below.
Mortar and pestle: Put garlic, pine nuts and salt in a mortar and grind with pestle until a paste forms. Finely chop basil and add to mortar. Pound until a coarse paste forms. Pour in oil, a little at a time, mixing and grinding until a sauce forms.
By hand: Finely chop garlic, pine nuts and basil. Put in a bowl with salt, oil, pecorino and parmesan. Mix well. The result will be a much chunkier salsa-like sauce.
Allow 1½ Tbsp pesto to 125g cooked pasta per serve. Top with extra basil leaves and pine nuts.
Pesto variations and substitutes
Pesto is quite a versatile recipe, and can have many variations, such as red pesto or white pesto. In terms of substitutes, if you have an allergy or aversion to specific ingredients in this recipe, here are some alternatives you can use:
- Pine nuts: you can use walnuts, cashews or even almonds instead.
- Basil: if you don't have enough basil, or want to extend the recipe, you can add in avocado, rocket or baby spinach. Basil can also be substituted with parsley in a pinch.
- Pecorino and parmesan: to make this recipe vegan, you can use a creamier nut, like cashew, and forgo the cheese altogether.
Chunky or smooth pesto?
The texture of pesto is widely debated, and honestly, it's definitely up to personal preference. This recipe uses a food processor, which you can use for a shorter amount of time for a chunkier texture or blend for a while to make it smooth and luxurious.
Take a look at our alternate methods above as well, as these are sure to give a nice, handmade feel to your pesto!
What can you use pesto for?
Pesto can be used as a topping, pasta sauce or within another recipe. Here are some ideas to get you started:
How to freeze pesto
The best way to freeze pesto is in individual serving sizes. Using an ice-cube tray, line each cube with plastic wrap or cling film and fill the space with your pesto. Freeze in the tray and then remove from the plastic and freeze again as individual little cubes.
These should last 2-3 months in the freezer and can be defrosted easily for dinner!