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Prep 15 mins
Cook 2 mins
From the Julia Child of Italian Cooking, this is Marcella Hazan's recipe for pesto. Its the first I've ever tasted and the only one I'll ever use. I've tried other recipes and nothing surpasses this, especially not any you'll get from a restaurant. Quality ingredients are important in simple recipes like this. The aromas in pesto's ingredients are subtle and its flavor varies depending on the brand and quality of the ingredients you choose. Make sure to find the best olive oil, the freshest basil (if it doesn't smell right or fragrant, don't bother using it, it will be a waste of expensive ingredients.) The cheeses mentioned should be sought and used. Use a high quality butter if possible.
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
- 1⁄2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped fine before putting in the processor
- 1⁄3 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated (parrmigiano-reggiano)
- 2 tablespoons pecorino romano cheese, freshly grated (or pecorino fiore sardo)
- 3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature
- Briefly soak and wash the basil in cold water, and gently pat it thoroughly DRY with paper towels.
- Put the basil, olive oil, pine nuts, chopped garlic, and an ample pinch of salt in the processor bowl, and process to a uniform, creamy consistency.
- Transfer to a bowl, and mix in the two grated cheeses by hand. It is worth the slight effort to do it by hand to obtain the notably superior texture it produces.
- When the cheese has been evenly amalgamated with the other ingredients, mix in the softened butter, distributing it uniformly into the sauce.
- When spooning the pesto over pasta, dilute it slightly with a tablespoon or two of the hot water in which the pasta was cooked.
- Freezing pesto: Make the sauce through to the end of Step 2, cover with a layer of olive oil and freeze it without cheese and butter in it. Add the cheese and butter when it is thawed, just before serving.
Not surprised by the use of butter. My father in law who is 100% Italian always puts a little bit of butter in his pesto. I've even seen him add a pat of cream cheese at the end. It adds slight creaminess to the pesto. Both ways are soooo delicious. I use lightly toasted walnuts instead of pine nuts. They are cheaper and taste just as good.
This is a superb recipe. I made it for the first time the other day here in southern Italy (Calabria). My Italian wife balked at the use of butter. But the result is a fine one indeed.
A few important caveats and ideas: 1. Be careful the way you grate the cheese if you are grating by hand. My advice is to grate it using the finest/smallest side of the cheese grater. If you opt for a slightly bigger grate, it affects the texture somewhat. Not enough to make it "bad", but probably in a way not in keeping with the recipe. Next time, I will grate it the finest way possible.
2. Consider putting the pine nuts in the oven on a sheet of aluminum foil or a pan for a few short minutes before using. That's my wife's customary pesto/pine nut preparation method over here. You want them cooked overhead just long enough to release some oils but not long enough to burn. Then let them cool before using. -- This is a variation on the recipe but you might find it's a good one.