It’s a beautiful late autumn day here in Melbourne, and whilst basking in the afternoon sun the waft of basil perfumed air drifts by, and I am taken to the rolling hills of Tuscany. This, however, is only my imagination as firstly I am in Melbourne and secondly I have never been to Tuscany. But the basil aroma is so evocative that momentarily the dreamland became my reality.
As I return to the reality of my front garden, the gentle warm sun is illuminating the aforementioned basil, and I ponder on just how wonderful an experience it is to be able to grow, pick and then cook with things that I have grown; just like the natives of Tuscany. For example, the tomato season is coming to an end but for the last three months there has been a steady stream of sweet and ripened Roma tomatoes from my two tomato plants. I also have sorrel (and citrusy salad leaf), jalapeno chillies, Jerusalem artichokes, strawberries, bay leaves, sage, Vietnamese mint, rosemary, mint and of course basil.
I am looking forward to the winter months as this means the growing of ‘green’ vegetables such as cabbage, broccoli, green beans and maybe peas. I will also try potatoes once the artichokes are all finished. Whatever is grown though, there is something immensely pleasurable in nurturing seeds or seedlings and seeing them grow in to produce. It is not only a mark of our human ability to grow our own food but it is food that is also packed with the fresh flavours that seem to be lacking in produce that has been transported and been sitting on store shelves for a few days or more.
So, back to the basil; the thought of Tuscany has created a desire for pasta and pesto. A truly match made in heaven combination which is delectable not only for its flavour and texture but its simplicity. Here is my recipe for pesto; I use an imported Pecorino instead of Parmesan as I feel it is less overpowering and imparts a smooth bite to the pesto. Of course the basil is just about to be picked from the Tuscan hills…garden.
Serves: Makes about 250g | Preparation: 20 minutes | Cooking: No cooking required
1 clove Garlic | Peeled.
Pinch Sea salt |
30g Basil leaves | Pick, wash and dry the leaves.
60g Pine nuts | You can toast them to add intensity, but I use them untoasted.
55g Italian Pecorino | Finely grated. I state Italian as Pecorino is made locally here in Australia and it is just NOT the same.
95ml Olive oil | Extra virgin olive oil is great.
This can be made in a food processor, but I like to use the more traditional method of a mortar and pestle. The crushing and grinding seems to draw out more of the basil and pine nut oils than by cutting (as it would in a food processor).
In to a mortar and pestle add the garlic and sea salt. Crush and grind until a garlic paste is formed. The addition of salt to the garlic causes the garlic to break down aiding in making it a paste like consistency.
Now add the basil leaves and bash until a green paste has formed. The basil does break down wonderfully, and the desire to go and dive in to the Tuscan hills takes hold as the aroma dissipates through the kitchen.
Now add the pine nuts, and continue to bash until paste like. Add the Pecorino and again some bashing and grinding until a thick dry paste has formed.
Now for the transformation in to pesto; a tablespoon at a time add the olive oil whilst stirring and grinding with the pestle. Adjust the oil to get your desired consistency. I like a nice ‘wet’ pesto if it is to be used in pasta. You may want something a little less oily if to be used as a spread on water crackers, for example. And hey p(r)esto, it’s finished.
- A fantastic way to use this pesto is to cook Spaghetti (#4) and then add the pesto, some chopped semi-dried tomatoes and some wok fried diced chicken thigh fillets.