Saturday, November 28, 2009

Presto Pesto

The other day, I finally made something worth writing about: pesto. Pesto and I have a history. I didn't really know what it was, and was therefore mostly afraid of it until after I was married. I had it a couple times without feeling too strongly about it until August 2007. I had just found out I was pregnant, and it was the day I graduated from college, and my old roommate Alexandra was in town and having a dinner party for some close friends. She made this fabulous asparagus with orange zest dish and had piles of grapes and cheese (but I didn't eat any brie because I didn't know if I could in my condition). And she also made pesto. And the pesto was so incredibly amazing. I was truly and deeply inspired. I copied down her recipe and made it several times, even taking the recipe to a dinner group the following winter.
The whole school year I was pregnant with Bria, Sam and I would have international cuisine themed dinners with a group of my old school friends. We started with Indian and made our way through Thai, Mediterranean, French, Swiss, and Italian. We would get together in the evening and cook for hours and hours and then eat for hours and hours. And Amanda would always do the dishes. (Thanks for that, Amanda; I hate doing the dishes.) Those nights are wrapped in this magical, nostalgic, warm and shiny place in my memory-- I think they kept me sane that year as I was uncomfortably pregnant and working an awful, brain-deadening job.
So for Italian night we made homemade pasta to be accompanied by three sauces: a basic alfredo, Matt's secret-recipe marinara, and the pesto. Everything was so delightful and perfect and fattening and filling and mouth-watering. Except the pesto. Oy! The Pesto! The greatest misfortune of all time is that someone (no naming names!) made the pesto with 1 tablespoon of salt instead of 1/2 teaspoon. And there was no more basil or pine nuts or parmesan to hide the salty horridness of it all. I think a little part of all those present died that night.
And, interestingly enough, I have never been able to find that exact recipe since. I honestly have no idea where it ran off to, but I've just improvised my pesto ever since. Sometimes it's super spicy, sometimes it's very cheesy. But it is never, ever too salty. When I made it the other day, I decided to measure it out as I went along so I could share it. The way it turned out this time was rather thick. I really like it that way, because when you add it to the pasta, the residual pasta water and the heat of the pasta loosen it up, and it's so beautiful to stir it all together. But if you want a more thin sauce, just add more oil until it reaches your desired consistency.
It is incredibly easy and quick to make, which makes for a cinch of a dinner. You can even make it ahead of time and just pull it out when you make the pasta. It will become firm in the fridge, but will loosen up with the heat of the pasta. If I make this for dinner, I find I often need more than just pasta and pesto. I added bacon this time, and I was so pleasantly surprised by the results. It adds this rich flavor that is so different from the pasta; it really adds to the depth of the dish. And the crunch from the bacon just makes it more interesting and makes you feel like your getting a whole lot more with each bite. I definitely recommend topping your pesto with bacon, pine nuts and parmesan for a truly delicious meal.

1 c packed basil
2 cloves garlic
1 c parmesan cheese
2 small pinches salt
1/2 c pine nuts (lightly toasting these beforehand is a great idea)
3/4 c extra virgin olive oil
1 T pasta water

Place basil, garlic, parmesan, salt, and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor or blender. Blend until the mixture forms into a thick paste. Slowly stream in oil while continuing to process until the pesto reaches the desired consistency. Add the pasta water last and blend to mix in.


  1. I can not wait to try this. I am a HUGE fan of pesto.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. We love Pesto, but I have never made it from scratch. The boys call it "Hulk" pasta because it's green. We always top ours with a little bit of shredded chicken and sun-dried tomatoes (or fresh if we don't have the sun-dried), but I can't wait to try bacon. Thank you.

  3. Sounds so lovely. Where do you get your basil & pine nuts? Even in Salt Lake, I haven't found anywhere they don't cost an arm and a leg. (Tried growing basil this summer, but we don't get enough sunlight at our

  4. You are a great writer as well as a tempting cook...I liked the "magical, nostalgic, warm and shiny place" line...
    I love pesto, but also didn't discover this love until a few years ago...thanks for sharing this recipe, yum!

  5. I love the idea of calling it Hulk pasta. That's awesome.

    Cathryn, this is one reason why I don't make pesto that often. It's expensive! I have yet to find a place to buy basil that isn't at least $3 for a tiny little package. But I splurge because it's so delicious. In the summer you should at least be able to find it at a farmer's market.
    As for pine nuts, you can buy a huge bag at Costco, and it's a lot up front, but it lasts forever, and ounce for ounce, it's a lot cheaper than buying a small amount at the grocery store. I'm thinking of looking into a place online to buy nuts in bulk. But as for now, yes. Making pesto does cost an arm and a leg. Bummer!

  6. Adding too much salt to pesto? Who could be so silly?