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Homemade Pesto


Suzi Edwards
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I always add some parsley to my pesto as my grandmother and her mother did - they were from Bari.

The problem was definitely the walnuts. They needed to be toasted, but continue to add the parsley - it adds another layer of flavor to the pesto.

In fact, sometimes I make parsley pesto and add some fresh oregano leaves - it could taste better than the basil.

Lemon and blanching won't hurt, but neither is absolutley imperative.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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Rich, no offence meant, but Bari is not exactly the home of pesto. All the recipes I have seen over the year for "classic" pesto call for Genovese basil alone. That doesn't mean you cannot add parsley in there if you like, but it's not the way the Confraternita del Pesto (Pesto Brotherhood) would do that according to the Ligurian tradition.

I would personally point to both parsley (and possibly the basil kind) and overheating for the bitterness.

Parsley, especially curly one, can indeed be quite bitter. As others have noted, Thai basil could also be the problem. The basil used in Liguria has a particular aroma, lacking the strong anise smell off Thai varieties, but also the minty ones of southern Italian basil. Unfortunately, I have never managed to find the same basil elsewhere, even in other Italian regions so I use whatever "Italian" basil I can get my hands on.

Overheating from the food processor can also turn basil into slush and bring out metallic/bitter flavours. Mortar and pestle is the best choice, but you can use a food processor if you take care. Here's a trick I learned from a friend in Genova: first, mash the garlic (one or two cloves per serving, if you want to stick to tradition) and nuts with the salt, set aside; put the basil leaves in the food processor and chop, at LOW speed, using short pulses with a few seconds of interval in between (you'll need a few minutes to chop the basil to the required size, but you definitely avoid overheating); once the basil is chopped nicely, add the garlic-nut mush, the cheese and whip in the oil by hand.

I don't really care for intense green pesto, so I never blanched my basil, but I was wondering if anyone of those who blanch their basil has ever made a taste comparison between blanched and non-. To me blanching is the perfect way to loose a lot of the basil aroma, given the volatile nature of the aromatic oils.

Edited by albiston (log)
Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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Next time I'll rinse the basil better and nix the parsley.  So what if the pesto turns moss green? 

Also, I'm thinking it may have had TOO much basil.  It was just a very overpowering taste of basil. 

Does anyone have a tried and true basil recipe they can share?

What kind of parsley did you add? I've never added parsley, but I don't think it hurt your pesto. 1/4 cup of parsley to 1 1/2 cups of basil - the parsley shouldn't have had that big of an impact - especially if you're thinking you had too much basil (I'm not sure there is such a thing as too much basil in a pesto).

Have you tasted the olive oil on it's own? Any chance it's gone off?

I once had to make pesto for somebody who was allergic to pine nuts - and other nuts. So I did some reading up, and somebody somewhere suggested adding some crustless white bread (not Wonderbread, but a good baguette or the like). I was unsure, but it turned out well - I guess it adds a mellowness that the pine-nuts do.

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i've always been deeply suspicious of blanching the basil for pesto, though i have to admit i've never tasted them side-by-side. it seem so ... french. no, really, it seems so restaurant--a trick to keep pesto looking fresh longer. in a home setting, there's no reason not to prepare the pesto just before dressing the pasta ... it takes like 30 seconds to make (ok, a minute and a half if you're using a mortar and pestle).

when i started making pesto (back in the ice age), i had problems with bitterness. i realized this was because i was using way too much basil for the amount of oil (more basil, better, right?). it was a good lesson about the necessity of balance.

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I think curley parley is almost tasteless--best used as a filler in a chicken salad. If you used Italian parsley it is very flavorfull and could make the pesto taste different. Nix the parsley altogether and use pine nuts.

Cooking is chemistry, baking is alchemy.

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when i started making pesto (back in the ice age), i had problems with bitterness. i realized this was because i was using way too much basil for the amount of oil (more basil, better, right?). it was a good lesson about the necessity of balance.

Russ, that's definitely a good point. Yet two cups of basil does not seem that much to me, though it depends on how tightly packed they were. Why willl you Americans not learn to use scales :wink::laugh: ?

I think curley parley is almost tasteless--best used as a filler in a chicken salad. If  you used Italian parsley it is very flavorfull and could make the pesto taste different.  Nix the parsley altogether and use pine nuts.

Interesting. To me curly parsley tastes terribly metallic and slightly bitter. I wonder if it's just the German parsley or some freaky genetic factor which influences the way curly parsley tastes.

Edited by albiston (log)
Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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Parsley, especially curly one, can indeed be quite bitter.

Yes, I agree. I should have said flat-leaf parsley.

Sorry for the confusion. I wasn't saying the Pesto my relatives made was the classic recipe - that was there version since they hailed from another area of Italy. I was just trying to say parsley shouldn't have been the problem.

I still think it was the untoasted walnuts. I've gotten that bitter flavor from walnuts in other recipes if I didn't toast them.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I always use Marcella Hazan's recipe, although I don't really need to look at it anymore and I just approximate. It comes out great each time.

2 cloves garlic

2 c lightly packed basil leaves

1/2 c grated parmesan [note: don't use pre-grated parmesan; buy cheese in chunks or wedges, and use a food processor to grate it]

1/2 c olive oil

2 T pine nuts

1. Put the garlic in the work bowl of a food processor or blender with a steel blade. Process until finely chopped.

2. Add basil to work bowl. Process until finely chopped.

3. Add parmesan and olive oil. Process until thoroughly incorporated.

4. Sprinkle pine nuts over top of pesto in work bowl. Pulse a few times to roughly chop nuts.

5. Pour into clean jars, up to 12 ounces. Top pesto with a thin layer of olive oil. Chill in refrigerator, then place in freezer. Pesto will keep in freezer for one year.

I use pre-grated cheese, because it's easier and it still is delicious.

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Actually my favorite pesto is made with toasted hazelnuts and basil, parsley and mint in this proportion - 1 part basil, 1/2 part parsley, 1/4 part mint (and a splash of lemon juice).

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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I second Marcella Hazan's receipe. Only changes I make are more basil... 2 cups tightly packed and lots more garlic :biggrin: Yum Yum!!!!!!

"Flay your Suffolk bought-this-morning sole with organic hand-cracked pepper and blasted salt. Thrill each side for four minutes at torchmark haut. Interrogate a lemon. Embarrass any tough roots from the samphire. Then bamboozle till it's al dente with that certain je ne sais quoi."

Arabella Weir as Minty Marchmont - Posh Nosh

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I third the Marcella Hazan recipe. It's fast, easy and good, and I've never had a problem with it. I've also used walnuts when I was out of pine nuts, with no ill effect. Can't imagine what went wrong here. Try the Hazan version and see how it tastes to you. Also, did you try it on the pasta itself? Could the unadulterated flavor of it be too strong for you? It's potent stuff.

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add a little (just a pinch) ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and it should keep your pesto from turning green right away. You should also boil the basil for 5-10 seconds in rapidly boiling well-salted water and shock it in ice water before making your pesto.

Pine nuts. No parsley. More garlic.

What is the purpose of boiling and shocking the basil?

Boiling and shocking in ice water is the standard way to keep vegetables deep green. I've never tried it with herbs....The Italian grocer I deal with swears her pesto stay brilliantly green, even when frozen, because she uses very young leaves.

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Parsley, especially curly one, can indeed be quite bitter.

Yes, I agree. I should have said flat-leaf parsley.

Sorry for the confusion. I wasn't saying the Pesto my relatives made was the classic recipe - that was there version since they hailed from another area of Italy. I was just trying to say parsley shouldn't have been the problem.

I still think it was the untoasted walnuts. I've gotten that bitter flavor from walnuts in other recipes if I didn't toast them.

Rich, I am glad my reply didn't cause any bad feelings and that someone else thinks curly parsley can be bitter :smile: . I am intrigued by your basil/parsley/pesto: how many toasted hazelnuts do you use? Cheese?

Maybe it was indeed the walnuts, yet walnuts per se should not be a problem either: quite a few Ligurian recipes have a few untoasted walnuts tossed in with the pinoli. Perhaps a bad one would be enough to make a whole pesto batch bitter, but unless Kris has some left we have no evidence for a thorough gastronomic Crime Scene Investigation.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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Marcella Hazan is not retired?? Good, she should.

Please, do not bleanch the basil. And remember that is by adding coarse salt to the leaves that is possible to retaining the color

1. better use small fresh basil, it should not have bloomed!!! And they should not be torn and black (very often I see basil that is already too big)

2. Add the oil only at the end.

3. Pulse 50 g of pine nuts with 1 glove of garlic

3. start adding basil and coarse salt (the amount of basil is that of a small bowl of salad, it must be perfectly dry)

4. Add the cheese, about 100 grams between pecorino and parmigiano.

5. Add just enogh oil to get to the right consintency and pulse, do not overheat turning it bitter and dark.

6. Add more extra vergin oil to cover.

7 It will last up to 10 days in the fridge.

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Hooray!

I did it, I did it!

I was determined to make a good batch of pesto so I made sure to buy sweet Italian basil, pine nuts, a new head of garlic and some cold pressed extra virgin olive oil (although I don't think anything was wrong with the one I had).

To answer a couple of questions raised in the thread:

1. The parsley was flat leaf parsley. And upon further inspection, it seemed gritty and had a pronounced taste of its own.

2. The olive oil I initially used wasn't rancid or off. But I bought a new bottle because I liked the shape of it. :laugh:

3. I'm American and I typically weigh my ingredients in my recipes - particularly since I'm a baker. But this recipe didn't have weight measurements.

4. I used fresh parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated by hand from a wedge I purchased from Murray's Cheese Shop (the oldest and most reknown cheesemonger in NYC).

5. I did try the first pesto batch on gemelli shaped pasta and it was still horrible. :laugh:

For my new batch, I took a lot of the advice offered in this thread:

1. I bought pine nuts

2. I used a little vitamin C (in the form of a splash of lemon juice) to keep the basil brighter. I didn't want to blanch.

3. I pulsed the basil at first and tried my best not to overprocess it.

4. I omitted the parsley

5. I used kosher salt

5. Oh, and I washed the basil very thoroughly. :smile:

Too lazy to use the mortar and pestle and I added a little more cheese than the recipe called for.

YUMMY!

Thanks to everyone for your input.

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In addition to the other possible problems mentioned, did you add the stems? I only use the leaves of the basil because I think the stems are bitter, especially on older plants. Also, if the basil isn't recently picked or has been refrigerated it can taste bitter. I try to use all ingredients at room temperature (I, too, follow the Hazan ratios). As for the salt, it sort of depends on your cheese asa the saltiness in cheese can vary.

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3. I'm American and I typically weigh my ingredients in my recipes - particularly since I'm a baker.  But this recipe didn't have weight measurements.

I've always said it: bakers rule :biggrin: !

I hope you didn't take my comment on weighing ingredients too seriously, I thought the smiley would have given a hint of the tongue in the cheek comment. I weigh ingredients a lot too, not because I am a baker (at least not a pro) unfortunately, but because I work as a biochemist and weighing everything sort of comes with the job. Yet when I cook Italian home-style food (i.e. almost every day) I don't even use volumetric measurements, I just use my eyes, hands and taste to measure stuff by feel alone, so there you have it.

If you feel like experimenting a bit more with pesto you might want to try using a mix of parmigiano and pecorino as Franci suggested. It gives a slightly sharper and richer taste, though I wouldn't use Pecorino Romano – too salty, IMO – but any ripe pecorino from Tuscany or even Spanish sheep cheeses like aged Manchego works great.

You could also do the traditional Ligurian thing and serve the pesto pasta with potatoes and/or green beans. For a pound of trenette (or, missing that, linguine) you could add 2-3 medium sized potatoes, cut to a medium dice, and about 4 oz green beans, topped and tailed and cut into 1/2 in. sections. Cook the vegetables in the boiling pasta water till nicely al dente, add the pasta and cook till that is al dente too. Drain and dress with your pesto and you have traditional Ligurian trenette al pesto.

Another thing they sometimes do in Liguria is to mix a little ricotta or prescinseua to the pesto. Prescinseua, cow milk curds obtained through acidification instead of renneting, can be found only in Liguria unfortunately, but you can substitute with ricotta mixed with a little yogurt or quark cheese if you can find some. It's not the same but close.

Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.
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I'm glad your second batch turned out wonderfully.

You might be interested in this thread on The Cooking and Cuisine of Liguria, linked here beginning on page 2 with Adam Balic's documentation of pesto-making. (Page 1 has some background; later pages, discussions and photographs of Ligurian olive oil which is not as spicy as others sold as EVOO.)

It's not at all orthodox, but I recently made pesto using roasted garlic just because raw garlic can be rather potent. Perhaps adding extra cloves to compensate for the milder, sweeter taste was ironic, but I really liked it this way.

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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Parsley, especially curly one, can indeed be quite bitter.

Yes, I agree. I should have said flat-leaf parsley.

Sorry for the confusion. I wasn't saying the Pesto my relatives made was the classic recipe - that was there version since they hailed from another area of Italy. I was just trying to say parsley shouldn't have been the problem.

I still think it was the untoasted walnuts. I've gotten that bitter flavor from walnuts in other recipes if I didn't toast them.

Rich, I am glad my reply didn't cause any bad feelings and that someone else thinks curly parsley can be bitter :smile: . I am intrigued by your basil/parsley/pesto: how many toasted hazelnuts do you use? Cheese?

Maybe it was indeed the walnuts, yet walnuts per se should not be a problem either: quite a few Ligurian recipes have a few untoasted walnuts tossed in with the pinoli. Perhaps a bad one would be enough to make a whole pesto batch bitter, but unless Kris has some left we have no evidence for a thorough gastronomic Crime Scene Investigation.

I'm not offended at all. It was my fault for not being clearer in the original post. I don't really have a measurement for the toasted hazelnuts - maybe half to three-quarters cup. I go by sight and feel.

Really intrigued with Pontormo's suggestion of using roasted garlic. That would add a whole other dimension to the flavor.

Rich Schulhoff

Opinions are like friends, everyone has some but what matters is how you respect them!

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In addition to the other possible problems mentioned, did you add the stems?  I only use the leaves of the basil because I think the stems are bitter, especially on older plants.  Also, if the basil isn't recently picked or has been refrigerated it can taste bitter.  I try to use all ingredients at room temperature (I, too, follow the Hazan ratios).  As for the salt, it sort of depends on your cheese asa the saltiness in cheese can vary.

Now that I think about it...there may have been some stems added into the initial pesto batch.

With this second batch, I made sure to wash the leaves thoroughly and picked off all of the stems.

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P.S. - Alberto, I was not at all offended by your comment about measuring ingredients. I just wanted to clarify that I'm accustomed to weighing out ingredients since I bake. But you're right in the sense that most Americans DON'T weigh, they go by volume measurement when cooking and baking. And particularly in baking, that could lead to some real disasters.

I'm also intrigued by using a parmiagno/pecorino combo, the Ligurian method of using pesto with pasta & potatoes as well as roasting the garlic.

Boy I'm glad I posted my pesto problem. I've gotten some great other possbilities to boot! :)

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Regarding Alberto's most recent post and the Ligurian thread: do try to find Fiore Sardo, a Sardinian cheese that many in Genoa prefer.

(And I do want to clarify that I neither roasted the garlic until it it was pungent and dark nor tossed in fistfuls. The point was to make its presence known, but subtle.)

"Viciousness in the kitchen.

The potatoes hiss." --Sylvia Plath

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  • 9 years later...

Below are the ingredients  for the pesto I make using Genovese basil I grow.the pesto recipe I use.

2               cups  fresh basil leaves

  2              large  garlic cloves

  1/2              cup  Parmesan cheese -- grated

  2        tablespoons  Romano cheese -- grated

  2             ounces  pine nut

  4             ounces  olive oil

                        salt and pepper to taste

The original recipe from a book says it can be safely stored in the fridge for 3 to 4 weeks if properly stored in an air tight container with a thin layer of olive oil over the top.  For my own use I don't keep it longer than a week in the fridge because of my concerns about fresh herbs and garlic in olive oil induced illnesses. I do freeze small portions without cheese.And I being overly cautious?  When someone asked for a copy of the whole recipe I changed 3 to 4 weeks to one week in the copy I gave them.

My sense of smell ranges from very poor occasionally to non-existent usually so I tend to err on the side of caution with food.

"A fool", he said, "would have swallowed it". Samuel Johnson

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  • 1 year later...

So, I got an old copy of the textbook used at the CIA, The Professional Chef from 1964, and it has a really weird pesto recipe. I also have the 1974 edition, and the same recipe appears there as well. Here are the ingredients:

 

salt pork, rind removed   10½ ounces

fresh pork fat                 10½ ounces

celery leaves                   1/3 ounce

parsley leaves with stalks 1/3 ounce

rosemary                          ½ teaspoon

sweet basil                       ½ teaspoon

marjoram                          ½ teaspoon

oregano                            ½ teaspoon

thyme                              ½ teaspoon

 

The instructions simply say to cut the pork fat into small dice, mix everything together, then twice run through a fine grinder. (my words)

I am assuming the last 5 ingredients would be dried.

 

Notes say that pesto is often used as a cooking fat...

 

I recall hating pesto as a kid. My mom never made it, but I had it while eating out on occasion. I am thinking that this recipe may be why I never liked it -I also dislike bacon. Anyway, I am curious, is this a legitimate Italian recipe from a particular region, or just a bad attempt at cultural appropriation?

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