Some pretend pesto (pronounced “pestu” in its home Liguria dialect), dates back as far as the ancient Rome. “Pesto genovese” (Genova is the capital of Liguria) has a DOC label (Controlled Origin Denomination) and shouldn’t be confused with “pesto alla genovese”, since labelling their jars this way producers are no longer obliged to follow the traditional recipe and include additional – read “cheaper” – ingredients.
Pesto genovese is traditonally composed of seven ingredients: basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, salt, parmesan, pecorino (ewe cheese) and olive oil. However, even Italians, albeit known for their culinary conservatism, do not necessarily stick to the DOC version. Leaving out pecorino is one of the most frequent alterations and also the one I usually make.
Craving for pesto last weekend I was confronted however with a new absence: this time I ran out of pine nuts. I quickly realised the Italian web abounds with almond pestos and decided to give this substitution a go, too lazy to go and fetch pine nuts. Apart from the almonds’ inclusion I sticked to my usual preparation, namely the slightly modified recipe from the famous “Il Cucchiaio d’Argento” (The Silver Spoon), but still without pecorino cheese. For once my laziness paid off! Pesto with almonds was much more subtle and so impressing, I think will choose it often deliberately instead of the traditional one.
Pesto is usually served stirred into pasta, but it’s also a good idea to spread it on fresh bread, toast, grilled meat or fish, add it into salads, use as a dip…
Special equipment: pestle and mortar or a food processor (a mini-mixer is the best if making a small batch of pesto)
Preparation: 10 minutes (or more if using a mortar)
Ingredients (serves two in a pasta with pesto dish):
3 handfuls of basil leaves
2 heaped tablespoons ground almonds
1 flat teaspoon salt (coarse salt is better if using the mortar)
1 big or two small garlic cloves
2 – 3 heaped tablespoons grated parmesan
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (or more)
If using a mixer put everything in the mixer bowl and mix. Adjust the taste.
If using the mortar start with garlic, almonds and salt, then add the cheese, the basil and the salt. Finish with olive oil.
If you don’t use pesto the same day, put it into a jar, cover with olive oil and close tightly. It will keep for at least a week in the fridge.