Anything Else Is Just Basil Sauce


Perhaps no single food has been more commonized by the foodie crazy than pesto. Once the purview of gourmet Italian chefs, now everyone from Walla Walla to Peoria is hitting the green.

But there’s still some old world skill necessary to make Pesto right. For an Irish-New Yorker, my mom can make a pesto as mean as any Sicilian grandma. I highlighted the ingredients above to draw attention to her two simple rules that many of these nuevo pesto chefs choose to ignore, at their own peril:

1- Only fresh basil. Bypass that crud they have in plastic containers at the grocery. Come fresh or don’t come at all. My mom won’t even make pesto until the summertime, when the best crop comes out.

2- Pine (pignoli) nuts are key. Don’t listen to anyone who says otherwise. Sure, I’ve had some decent “pesto” made with walnuts or no nuts at all, but that’s not pesto, it’s basil sauce.

The result is a rich, creamy concoction that I could eat with a spoon, although I try to resist the temptation to do so.

Mama Spiegel’s full recipe after the jump.

Pesto Recipe

4 cloves garlic

2/3 cup fresh basil

1/3 cup Italian parsley

1/2 cup grated parm cheese

1/3 pine nuts (pignoli)

1/2 cup olive oil

Put in blender or food processor and blend until creamy and smooth in texture.

Two notes:

– I usually make triple this recipe but don’t triple the garlic; 4 cloves is enough, since it won’t get cooked.

– You can freeze the pesto but if you’re going to do that, don’t add any cheese until you are ready to use after defrosting. Nadia at Cheeseaholics explains why freezing cheese is a sin.

Add to hot, drained pasta. Top with additional grated cheese, if desired.

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  • Kathleen July 3, 2007  

    I’m the Mom who taught Brendan how to make pesto but I have to admit that it’s not my recipe. I got it many years ago from a colleague named Linda Caffin. I think of her every time I make pesto.

  • El July 5, 2007  

    1.) I too agree that fresh basil is the only way to go. An added note though — basil freezes quite nicely so “summertime-only pesto” can be a thing of the past. Growing up we always had ice cube sized dollops of pesto in the freezer for use in the winter months – in soups, on pasta, etc – and its fresh taste is not lost.

    2.) Brendan and I have fought the nut war for years. I grew up with nut-less pesto (yes, I still call it pesto) and have always found it to be VERY tasty. Now if you tell me to take the cheese out, then we can talk about re-naming this yummy treat.

  • John James Anderson July 5, 2007  

    After living in Italy for over a year there are about half a dozen pestos out there for sale on the shelves of Roman grocers; all are defined by region. Pesto basically means something that is ground. So, anything can be made into a pesto. The walnut variety of which you wrote typically should be mixed with sun dried tomatoes, garlic and Parmesan cheese (piu olio, sale e nero, claro!). Others are made with olives, onions, spinach and ricotta. But, Pesto Genovese (above) will always be king.

  • BS Mom October 22, 2007  

    A further variation on pesto (again courtesy of Linda Caffin). Add about 1/4 cup of mayo and 1/4 grated Asiago cheese to about 1 cup of pesto so it’s a creamy, spreadable consistency. Use any type of French or Italian bread. Cut into 1/4″ slices, spread the pe sto on the bread, sprinkle a little more grated cheese on top, broil for 2-3 minutes until the cheese melts, then serve. Not low-calorie but great tasting

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