Classic Pesto Pasta: The Proper Way to Prepare ItSeptember 11, 2018
- Hanna SanchezWords
Pasta with pesto is one of my favorite things to order, whether or not there’s a star or thumbs-up icon next to it on a restaurant menu. And since it’s a basic (and deceptively easy to make) sauce, I usually judge Italian restaurants according to the quality of their pesto.
Said to have originated in Genoa, this green purée is comprised of only 6 ingredients: basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses, and extra-virgin olive oil. While the sauce itself is the stuff of legend, the process of making it is quite ordinary. You simply gather the freshest ingredients, throw them all in a food processor, pulse, and voila! You’re done!
The secret of a good first-rate pesto sauce lies not just in using the best ingredients, but also in the technique employed in making it. So, set your monster food processor or blender aside, and bring out your dusty mortar and pestle. And don’t start without reading the following pointers first:
- Pesto is actually Italian for “to pound”. Purists insist, however, that traditionally-made pesto is not pounded, but ground in a circular motion using the pestle. In contrast, the blade of a food processor heats up during the grinding process, “burning” the basil and affecting its flavor and color.
- Always use young, vibrant basil leaves. They give a fuller flavor and a smoother texture. Also, blanch and shock them before use. This prevents the pesto from discoloring over time.
- Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano are the only acceptable cheeses. Period.
- Use only extra-virgin olive oil. We’re talking about proper pesto here, so stop compromising!
- Toast pine nuts prior to use. This will not only thicken the sauce, but bring out the flavor of the nuts as well.
Lastly, follow the recipe to the letter (and don’t forget to come back here and comment!).
Classic Pesto Sauce
Total Time: 20 minutes / Yield: 4-6 servings
- 2 cups young basil leaves
- 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
- 2 cloves minced garlic (you can start with 1 clove, but I like my pesto garlicky so…)
- A pinch of salt
- ¼ cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 3 tablespoons freshly-grated Pecorino Romano
- 10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 500 grams of your pasta of choice, cooked according to package instructions (I like linguine)
- Blanch, and then shock the basil leaves. Pat dry, and then set aside.
- Place pine nuts, garlic, and salt in a large mortar. Grind into a smooth paste using circular motions.
- Add basil leaves, one leaf at a time (or in batches), and then grind until fully incorporated into the paste.
- With a wooden spoon, stir in the freshly-grated cheeses.
- Drizzle in extra-virgin olive oil, continuously mixing until everything is combined. Set aside.
- Serve with pasta.
- You may add a bit of pasta water to the sauce to thin it as needed.