How to make pesto

Posted on: 25 March 2013 by Gareth Hargreaves

Pesto and pasta go together like peaches and cream. Here is a seriously simple recipe to create this Italian classic in minutes.

The ever increasing British taste for the more unusual forms of international cuisine has not diminished the popularity of Italian food in the UK.  Much like the nation's favourite, curry, our quest for the more obscure has not dented our fondness for well-loved pasta dishes.

Pesto remains among the most popular of Italian sauces, its rich, pungent flavour belying the simplicity of its composition. To make your own, all you need is some parmesan cheese, pine-nuts, good olive oil, basil and garlic. Now you might not fancy producing your own parmesan or pressing your own olive oil, but you can grow basil and garlic for a truly fresh tasting sauce.


Basil is relatively easy to grow, but do remember that it won't stand up to frost. Sow it under glass in March and plant out in June in a sunny position. The plants should be spaced nine to twelve inches apart. Pinching out the tips regularly will ensure that your plants are bushy with lots of wonderfully aromatic leaves. Simply pick the leaves as you need them.


You will need to buy a whole head of garlic, which should then be separated into individual cloves. During early spring plant the cloves about six to eight inches apart in a sunny, well-drained position and ensure that they are kept watered during dry spells. When the plants turn a yellowish colour in August the bulbs can be pulled up and left to dry indoors.


Although the ingredients for pesto are pretty standard, you can have fun experimenting with quantities to come up with your own personal flavour. Here's one suggestion:-  

  • 4 cups basil leaves
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 cup pine nuts
  • 11/2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 11/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper


Put the basil leaves and garlic in a food processor or blender until the leaves are finely chopped. Add the nuts until they are also are finely chopped. Add cheese and blend the ingredients until combined. Add the olive oil very slowly and steadily while the mixture is still blending. Finally, season with salt and freshly ground pepper according to taste.

You can keep pesto in the fridge for about a week in an airtight container.  A very thin layer of olive oil on top will prevent the pesto from discolouration.  Last but not least, make sure you have a good bottle of chianti on hand to enjoy with your pasta.


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