Fragrant pestos are a pleasure to make

Date:23-07-2013 07:58:23 read:2

Fragrant pestos are a pleasure to make

Whether you pound it or blitz it, nothing beats a home-made pesto.

Whizzing up a Calabrian tomato and red-pepper pesto 
< >
  • Article

    Four punchy pesto recipes

  • Article

    Mexican pork chops with pepita and coriander pesto recipe

In the kitchen of the first flat I rented in London there was an unopened jar of pesto (left by the previous occupant). It was 1985 and everyone was talking about this perfumed unguent. I duly boiled a pan of spaghetti and waited for the smell of basil to explode on the hot pasta. Instead, it tasted and smelled of wet socks. I've made my own ever since.

What seems amazing is that pesto was once unfamiliar. The 1980s marked the beginning of our love affair with Italian food, and pesto was its poster boy. (Nora Ephron described pesto as 'the quiche of the 1980s' in her screenplay When Harry Met Sally.) Eventually pesto genovese was traduced in the same way as quiche. It was tossed into tubs of pasta salad and spread on substandard panini with, heavens, gorgonzola.

I'm usually a bit of a purist. I don't like the inauthentic. But pesto doesn't just belong to Genoa. Most thrilling to me was the discovery of lesser-known Italian pestos: walnut ones from the north, tomato and almond ones from Sicily. They provided more options for simple mid-week meals.

And 'pesto' has gone global too, using ingredients from Thailand to Mexico. Some are authentic local sauces, now renamed 'pestos', others are new inventions. You can understand their popularity – pestos deliver big flavours and are a pleasure to make. As Patience Gray puts it in her book Honey From A Weed, 'Pounding fragrant things – particularly garlic, basil, parsley – is a tremendous antidote to depression.'

Asian 'pestos' use that same principle – pounding – as Italian ones and are good for spooning over fish, or stirring into bowls of rice. (Anyone who tosses such pestos with pasta – or adds parmesan to them – should be made to eat the worst sock-scented jarred stuff.) Won over by ease and sheer yumminess, I've been forced to open my mind to what pesto can be.

There are good commercial pestos on the market but I've never tasted one I like as much as home-made stuff. For a mortar-made sauce start with the garlic and a little salt and pound to a paste, then add the nuts (if using), the herbs and any vegetables, and pound again. Slowly add the oil until you have a paste. With cheese, I lightly pound half of it then stir in the remainder. All of the pestos below will keep, covered with clingfilm, for up to a day in the fridge; the Calabrian one will last a few days.

You can whizz the ingredients in a food processor, though it produces a less textured sauce. But remember what the pounding of fragrant things can do.

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013