Basil Pesto – and the “king of herbs”

I don’t know how I’d cook without herbs. Whether they are being used as a star ingredient, a last minute scattering for freshness or simply as a garnish, these colourful and fragrant wonders of the culinary world have the ability to bring food to life.

If asked which was my favourite herb I’d be pushed to choose one above all others. But at the top of my list are: basil, Italian parsley, thyme, rosemary, mint, tarragon.

I’ll leave it there otherwise I’ll add every herb to the list.

Basil is at the top of the list simply because for me it conjures memories of food I’ve eaten in Italy – scattered over tomatoes, tossed through hot pasta, stirred through a rich meat ragù or simply garnishing a crisp bruschetta.

Did you know that basil has been around for over five thousand years? It’s thought the herb has origins in India but history shows it was a prominent herb in Egyptian and Greek cultures also. “Basil” comes from a Greek word meaning “king”, which is the reason it is often referred to as the “king of herbs”, a name that almost suggests it has royal status among the herb family.

I’m happy for this vibrant green leaf to enjoy such status. Especially as it is the star ingredient of my recipe today – basil pesto. Another Italian favourite.

This wonderful sauce is fresh and packed with flavour and is so versatile. In fact, it would go very nicely with most dishes I’ve mentioned above. Pesto with tomatoes – beautiful. Stirred through hot pasta – delicious. Smeared across crisp grilled slices of bread – yum!

When it comes to making pesto I find it’s a good idea not to get too hung up on measurements because it is so much a matter of taste. I don’t like my pesto to be too oily and so add less olive oil than other recipes. Parmesan and seasoning can also be adjusted to your taste.

Below I have given some general measurements but I would suggest using these as a guide only. Start with the basil. If you happen to have a cup measurement in your kitchen this is a great way to get started but otherwise you’re looking for two generous handfuls of basil or a nice large bunch of it.

When it comes to the seasoning, parmesan and olive oil, I would add in stages until you get it just right for your taste.

 

Basil Pesto

 

Ingredients

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 2 small cloves garlic, crushed
  • 40-50g grated Parmesan
  • 50g pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 4-6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Squeeze of lemon juice

 

Method

  1. Add the basil leaves and garlic into the bowl of a food processor. Give it a quick pulse.
  2. Add half the Parmesan and pine nuts, a touch of seasoning, two tablespoons of olive oil and process until it’s forming a paste.
  3. Now is when you need to start tasting. You may decide to add the rest of the Parmesan or only half of it. How much more salt and pepper? You’ll need at least another couple of tablespoons of olive oil, or perhaps more.
  4. Keep tweaking and processing until you’re happy with the flavour and the pesto is the consistency of a smooth sauce. It should be thick enough to hold its shape on a spoon but also slightly oozy with the olive oil.
  5. A squeeze of lemon juice at the end finishes it off very nicely.

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The colour and smell of this pesto is enough to put a smile on your face even before you start eating it.

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I’ve mentioned above many ways to eat this superb Italian sauce. But another of my favourite ways to eat it is as a dressing. I love to toss it through baby spinach leaves, which is exactly how I’ve served it in the photograph below (add a little water to the pesto to loosen it before tossing through the leaves).

I’ve also added roasted new potatoes, cherry tomatoes and grilled halloumi. Seriously delicious.

Enjoy!

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21 Comments

  1. Rini says:

    I never ate pesto growing up and I only discovered it after I moved out on my own. That shows you how many years I have to catch up on eating pesto! And I think the salad is a great way. I never thought of eating it that way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. annika says:

    Thank you for this nice history lesson and this pesto and salad look amazing. I am now way to anxious for gardening season to start! I’m not familiar with tarragon at all; I’d love to see your favourite dish with it in a future post!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Basil Pesto is loved by many, yet often forgotten as an option. It adds amazing flavor to so many dishes and doesn’t require large quantities of consumption to satisfy gustatory pleasure.

    I had to google halloumi. I had never heard of it before. Quite a versatile cheese based on a high melting point.

    Your presentation in the final picture will leave many a mouth salivating!

    Liked by 1 person

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