Pesto is such a simple summer-time pleasure. Mixed into pasta, smothering steamed potatoes, smeared onto a sandwich, or just eaten with crusty bread, there are many ways to showcase the beauty and flavour of pesto. Like all simple foods, pesto is most enjoyable when quality ingredients are allowed to sing out their unique flavours. There are loads of additions and variations that can be made to pesto, but in general there are three ingredients that need to be chosen carefully; the base (basil usually), the olive oil (ideally better quality than the regular stuff from the grocery store), and the cheese (ideally not that shakable kind found in the spaghetti isle). With fresh basil, good quality olive oil, and grated parm cheese, there isn't anything you can't do!
One of the things I love most about pesto is how versatile it is, you can make it with nearly anything; basil, kale, parsley & mint, garlic scapes, arugula, sun dried tomatoes, spinach; the list goes on and on. And then there are the nuts! You can go with no nuts, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or my personal favourite pine nuts!
I've been looking to Jamie Oliver a lot lately for my dinner-time inspiration, I really love how he focuses on simple, fresh ingredients. I admit his British measurements can be annoying, but when appropriate he measures in handfuls, squeezes, and gulgs, which is fine by me.
1/2 clove garlic, chopped (optional)
3 handfuls fresh basil leaves (i used purple basil)
1 handful pine nuts, lightly toasted or not (optional)
1 good handful parmesan cheese, freshly grated
extra virgin olive oil
small squeeze lemon (optional)
Pound the garlic with a little pinch of salt and the basil leaves in a pestle and mortar, or pulse in a food processor. Add a bit more garlic if you like, but I usually stick to ½ a clove. Add the pine nuts to the mixture and pound again. Turn out into a bowl and add half the Parmesan. Stir gently and add olive oil – you need just enough to bind the sauce and get it to an oozy consistency.
Season to taste, then add most of the remaining cheese. Pour in some more oil and taste again. Keep adding a bit more cheese or oil until you are happy with the taste and consistency. You may like to add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end to give it a little twang, but it’s not essential. Try it with and without and see which you prefer.