Not many people know this, but back when I was in high school, I was a kitchen hand for a week as part of work experience. Granted, it was a short week, but it sealed my fate in that I decided that I never ever wanted to be a commercial kitchen chef. On day one, I was already begging for the week to come to an end – the tasks I was being asked to do were tedious and repetitive (cutting cos lettuce for Caesar salads in exact 3cmx3cm squares will drive anyone insane after two hours), and the atmosphere was always tense and full of swearing.
I did manage to learn some valuable experiences though. I peeled and de-veined my very first prawn while doing a whole 10 kilos of them, learned how to char-grill vegetables (and dropped many through the grill onto the fire in the process), and also how to make pesto.
That was the day I met the head chef for the first time, and my goodness he was an intimidating man. All I remember is that he instructed me to follow him to a small room in the kitchen where a monstrously-sized blender awaited, a box full of fresh basil, a head of garlic, and a bottle of olive oil. He told me to throw everything in to make ‘pesto’, something I’ve never heard of before. When I tentatively asked him for the amounts he wanted of each ingredient, he gave me an enigmatic smile and said that I should just test it as I go.
Quite simply, I was terrified out of my wits. 15 to 20 minutes later, he came in to check on me, dipped a spoon into the green mixture I had made, thought for a moment, then gave me a wide smile and nod of approval.
Since that day and over the years, I’ve discovered the versatility of pesto. How you can add different herbs and nuts to it to create a flavour that’s entirely different (rocket & walnut is also amazing, as is char-grilled capsicum & macadamia), and that its uses are unlimited, limited not only to stirring through cooked pasta, but you can also toss it through salads, brush it over a tender fillet steak, or simply spread a little on a slice of baguette and top with smoked salmon. With the different variations of basil pesto that I’ve tried, this is, without a doubt, the best basil pesto recipe I’ve ever used and I haven’t bothered to try out any different recipes since.
To make approximately one cup of basil pesto, you will need:
- 100g (2C) basil leaves;
- 40g (1/4C) toasted pine nuts;
- 25g (1/4C) grated Parmesan cheese;
- 1 teaspoon crushed garlic;
- 6o ml olive oil.
Place the basil leaves, toasted pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese and the crushed garlic into the bowl of a food processor.
Process to combine and with the motor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream and puree.
Season to taste with a salt and pepper and thin with a little water if you prefer.
I didn’t overly-process my pesto as I like it quite chunky. If you’re not using it immediately, spoon it into a clean jar and cap tightly. If kept refrigerated, it should keep for up to two weeks as the olive oil essentially preserves it.
Enjoy! 🙂 xx