I love pesto, but oftentimes, ordering food with pesto scares the crap out of me. I sometimes believe that eating even a drop of pesto will cause me to gain copious amounts of weight, distributing fat throughout my arms, legs, stomach and hips as I enjoy it's nutty, sharp, garlicky, oil-filled flavor.
But sometimes, I just like to have it. Some of my favorite salads have a basil pesto vinaigrette and I wanted to re-create those salads in home in all of their glorious wonder. I know it has become common, but I am totally a "dressing on the side" girl, and I still feel like a jerk for asking that. But believe you me, in New York City, that is the least of the special requests. You have no idea. If the dish is grilled trout with crispy potatoes, bitter greens, and anchovy vinaigrette, you'd better believe that the order will go something like this:
"I'll have the grilled trout, but instead of grilled, I'd like it steamed. And I'd like the potatoes to be boiled instead of crispy. How are the greens prepared? Sauteed? No, no, no, I can't have that. I'd like them roasted, but absolutely NO BUTTER. I'm allergic. And no vinaigrette. Thank you."
If you think I'm kidding, you are sadly mistaken. I can't tell you how many dinners I have been to with requests like that. And the waiters all take it in stride... at the table. I'm sure they, along with the chef, are cursing the diner as they enter the order.
Sometimes, it's just better to make the food that "scares you" at home, so you know exactly what is in it. Food like pesto is a prime example: I know that it is fresh, there are no secret preservatives deterring my body from metabolizing it.
I definitely like to make pesto the old fashioned way: mortar and pestle. There is no fun tossing stuff in a blender and letting the blender do all of the work. No! I want to pound that pesto to a pulp! Release any pent up stress! Beat that beat! RAWR! And the end result is so worth it. Creamy pesto filled with the fresh, sweet flavor of basil, nutty pine nuts, pungent garlic, sharp, freshly grated parmesan cheese, and quality olive oil. Just a little taste goes a long way. And not on my hips.
In a mortar, pound 1 garlic clove and a pinch of salt to a paste.
Return the pine nut mixture to the mortar with the basil mixture. Slowly drizzle in 1/3-1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil as you continue pounding the mixture. Adjust salt, if necessary.
1 bunch basil (about 1 lightly packed cup), coarsely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 - 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste
In a mortar and pestle, pound 1 garlic clove and a pinch of salt to a paste. Add the pine nuts and continue to pound. Add the parmesan cheese, pound until the mixture is well-combined. Transfer mixture to a bowl.
Add the basil leaves to the mortar and pound them until they become a paste. Return the pounded pine nut mixture to the mortar. Pound the leaves and pine nut mixture together. Continue pounding as you gradually pour in 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Taste for salt and adjust, if necessary.