Photo courtesy of Liudmila Chernetska at iStockphoto.com

The Ultimate Fast Food

The Italians don’t just do fast cars. Folding a spoonful of pesto through a bowl of fresh pasta can take your meal from 0 to 60 in under 5 seconds.

I don’t know when pesto first appeared in my world. I certainly don’t remember it as a child or even in my student days when it would surely have been an absolute staple.

But since the kids were small there has always been a little green jar inside the fridge door for those moments near the end of the day when time, energy and inspiration have withered away but hungry mouths are still needing fed.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I‘ve cried out “Pasta Pesto, anyone?” — desperation evident in my voice but knowing guiltily that my idleness will be rewarded with a resounding and unanimous “Yes, please!”

The other night I stumbled upon a documentary showing basil leaves being harvested and I wondered how the smell in the fields must have been incredible. I went to the fridge and sniffed the jar that sat inside the door — it smelt nothing like that conjured up by the images on the TV.

It occurred to me that the brand I’d been using for the last 10 years might be utter crap and resolved to discover what my pesto should really smell like.

“…Pesto is always at its best in an emergency.”

Pesto can be made from all sorts of ingredients but the green “alla Genovese” variety is what we know best and, generally speaking, is made from basil, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic and olive oil. But there is no strict recipe so you can really freestyle— at the end of the day, it’s fairly difficult to make something inedible out of 5 such delicious ingredients.

I made a few batches — one too garlicky, another too salty but even when you’ve nailed down your recipe you still need to tinker around the edges as all these ingredients can vary significantly in their flavour.

“In a moment of undoubted controversy, I added a good squeeze of lemon juice — I think it worked a treat…”

So this was my final recipe:

Pesto (275g) Ingredients:

  • 100g of Basil Leaves
  • 25g Pine Nuts
  • 50g Parmesan
  • 80ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Small Garlic Clove (5g)
  • 3/4 tsp Fine Rock Salt
  • 20ml Lemon Juice

Method

Blitz or Pestle!

Nutritional Info (100g)

Carbohydrate 4.0g; Protein 9.1g; Fat 37.5g; Kcal; 380 (Suggested serving is about 40g)

The perfectionist may insist on roasting the pine nuts or using a pestle and mortar but in the spirit of simplicity, these things aren’t crucial. Cashews also work well if pine nuts are unavailable or too expensive.

You can tweak your recipe based on personal preference but I think you could tweak it based on what you are serving it with too. The addition of lemon juice worked really well with some grilled fish but if I was serving it with steak I might drop the lemon juice and add some more garlic.

“The important thing is not to stress because whatever combo you go with it’s going to taste amazing!”

The homemade pesto did taste incredible but there’s still a time and a place for that little green jar inside the fridge door. It’s well worth shopping about though — I tried a jar of the more premium Belazu pesto from the supermarket and the difference was unmistakable — really tasty and much closer to the homemade version — the inclusion of sunflower oil being my only gripe.

Pesto is so versatile — on a Chargrilled Steak, a Fillet of Salmon or a Pork Chop it delivers a big dollop of flavour. You can fry your eggs in it, smear it on a pizza base or, as my kids have too often experienced it — stirred into some hot pasta.

At the end of the day though, pesto is always best in an emergency.

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