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Fat Guy

Pesto Basics

51 posts in this topic

I made some pesto today and I made it poorly. Would somebody be kind enough to give me a refresher course?


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Why did you consider it to be a poor specimen? How did you make it? Pine nuts? Food processor? When did you add cheese?

Generally, for a food processor to work, you have to use a butt load of basil. Otherwise, you just won't get it fine enough. Same thing with the garlic. I'd suggest you do the garlic separately into a paste. The pine nuts can be added to the processor, but realize they'll remain somewhat chunky. I'm sure you used good EVOO. Did you use salt? I use lemon juice to brighten up the flavor, depending on how good the basil was. Parmesano reggiano, of course. Make sure that's grated fine -- your Microplane® should do the trick. Hmmmm, what else???


Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Criminy. I assume you didn't forget the basil, too.


Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Nope. It was a garlic issue. Also probably should have used more basil to reach critical food processor mass. It's probably hopeless to try to incorporate the garlic at this point. Pesto was much easier when I had a mortar and pestle and a brain.


Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Marcella Hazan wants you to use Pecorino Romano as well as the Parmigiano, and a little butter. She will also allow you to freeze pesto before you add the cheese and butter.

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Oops. Forgot the garlic. Thanks.

It's useful to consult a definitive recipe occasionally, FG. Helps avoiding needless mistakes.

While mortar and pestle is always best, Marcella's blender version, with cheese and butter added later, is excellent.


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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i've tried a number of recipes, and never really made a good pesto. not until this summer: in the local small-town swedish supermarket, i found a sort of basil that was a bit different from the one you can get in denmark, and tasting much more like the real thing in a pesto.

so, i think the kind of basil used will make a difference.


christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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In Genoa they will tell you that only the basil leaves coated with the salt from the sea air will do. Maybe the pesto is better in Easthampton.


Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Earlier in the year when I ws in Liguria I asked a chef at a restaurant how they made their pesto (which was excellent). It was the basic recipe, except they added very little cheese. The basil flavour was really intense, so I wonder if their basil was the key or if the cheese dampens down the basil flavour?

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I make pesto according to a very strange recipe I found in an old James Beard cookbook. Apparently he was quite ill with heart problems and had to cut down on fats, and he devised a pesto recipe that has no cheese at all, and no nuts. (It also calls for margarine instead of olive oil, which I found shocking coming from James Beard, and which I completely ignore.) But the point is, the recipe is only basil, garlic, lemon juice, S & P, and olive oil (you can use margarine if you want, I suppose.) I think it's great.

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i make pesto in two batches--i process the basil & EVOO first. then i do EVOO & parmesan, garlic & pine nuts in a separate batch. i like to get the basil chopped just so--fine but not too fine--it still needs to have a little texture--if you throw everything in together, you'll kill the basil in the process of getting everything else chopped up fine.

then i blend the two batches by hand, add some lemon & sea salt and a pinch of cayenne.

some recipes call for half basil & half parsely--i never use parsley, but i have substituted cilantro for basil--this makes a really surprising and delicious "pesto"--great on corn on the cob or tomato sandwiches.

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I usually make pesto by eyeball rather than measuring ingredients and though it comes out different every time it's almost always very good. I use a food processor or blender, though I keep telling myself it's time to get a mortar and pestle.

The basil leaves go in first, followed by a healthy splash of olive oil, some chopped garlic (I go easy on the garlic based on personal preference), a handful of pine nuts (almonds if I'm out of pignoli), and a little bit of melted butter. If I'm making a big batch and plan to freeze some I don't add the parmigiano -- otherwise, I add just a little touch, à la Adam's thread. I prefer to add the extra cheese, salt and pepper when I'm using the pesto in a dish. Process until it's the desired consistency. I prefer mine more emulsified and creamy than most commercially prepared versions.

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Blanch the basil leaves for 15 seconds. Refresh them in ice water, then squeeze most of the moisture out (a little water being a good thing, it helps to emulsify the mixture). Keeps the pesto green longer because it retards oxidation.

Mortar and Pestle is my religion.

Garlic goes in first. Smash and puree it, then take a nice big whiff...

I usually use walnuts and a pinch of sugar for a nuttier flavor.

Lots of salt, afterall, it is a condiment, so-to-speak.

Cheese? God forbid.

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In my experience an excess of any one of the other ingredients fatally dilutes the basil flavor.

I like the Parmigiano-Pecorino Roman combination, too, (Marcella is pretty much always correct), although I must say an Italian chef I knew, who had cooked in Liguria (Sanremo) for years, used only Parmigiano.


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No one mentioned toasting the nuts before processing. I always do and I also usually use walnuts.

As for cilantro pesto - also delicious in hollowed-out cherry tomatoes for a starter.


Stop Family Violence

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No one mentioned toasting the nuts before processing. I always do and I also usually use walnuts.

As for cilantro pesto - also delicious in hollowed-out cherry tomatoes for a starter.

I always toast the nuts... no matter what I am cooking... they usually make for better flavoring.

Will have to try your cilantro pesto... :smile:

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Has anyone tried canning pesto?

Any tips for that if at all possible?

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A blender works much better than a food processor for this because it achieves a much finer blend. However it can be hard to get it started in a blender. I find that it's worth the extra washing up to start it in a food processor and then transfer the rough paste to a blender.

If one doesn't have a blender, it's worth having two metal blades for the food processor, one of which is kept very sharp for those tasks that must be as finely blended as possible. The blades get dull very quickly -- think of what a beating they're getting compared to a knife.

The suggestion of freezing the pesto without the parmesan is a very good one. Also the suggestion of roasted walnuts. If you're making a lot, pine nuts are ferociously expensive, especially in London.

Suvir has got it right -- good Indian and also Mexican cooks know that nuts and seeds and spices pan-roasted separately before combining make all the difference!

Edit: Here's a tip for blender mixtures that hang up and won't get moving properly. I put the blender on a surface where I can look down into it, take the center plug out of the cover, and run the blender at low speed while inserting the wooden shaft of a long slender artist's brush down the side to near the bottom and slowly moving it around the outside of the glass jug. It gradually brings the parts that aren't moving in towards the blade. If you make a mistake and come in contact with the whirling blade, it's only light wood and no damage is done.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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im not a big cheese eater, howeveer I love Pesto...found a pesto recipe w out cheese on epicurious...

Has anyone ever had pesto sans cheese?

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I did a search and found Fat Guys pesto topic where it says many of the best pesto recipes have little to no cheese.

Second question...have you found it better to make your own Pesto or buy in in the store...

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As a cheese lover I never thought of making a pesto without cheese, I will be interested in hearing how it turns out, does it have something different in it to make up for the lack of cheese? Iw as actually planning to make pesto tonite, i was going to try Jack Bishop's pesto my way from his Italian Vegetarian book, this recipe only calls for 1/4 cup of cheese compared to others that call for 1/2 cup to a whole cup for the same amount of basil.

I think freshly made pesto can't even compare to that of store bought, but I actually prefer the jarred ones for my risotto with pest and walnuts (heavenly), it just adds a depth you can get from fresh. So for saucing pasta and vegetables I wouldn't use anything but homemade, but store bought has its uses especially if it is going to be cooked further.


<p><strong>Kristin Wagner</strong>, aka "torakris"

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I make pestos from basil/pine nuts/ parmigiano reggiano; fennel, lemon, walnuts; whole lemon (rind and all) thyme; Chinese celery, peanuts, fermented tofu.

You can do whatever you want. As long as it works.


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

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Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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I am not really sure what defines a pesto.

I make something very pesto ish with no cheese.

It has roasted walnuts & almonds ground with garlic, flat leaf parsley, basil, verjuice and evoo.

i could eat it by the spoonful.

It is fantastic accompaniment to chicken.

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