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A Dazzling Pesto

Wash and dry the herbs

Pick off the best leaves, discarding the ones that are browned or bruised. Get rid of the tough stems because those won’t taste very good—too fibrousy!

Finely grate the cheese (if not already grated)

If you bought grated cheese, skip this step.

Otherwise, if you have a block of cheese, grate it using the small holes on your grater. You want it nice and fluffy, like snow.

Grate about a half cup of cheese. Exact amounts don’t matter. Just grate until you have roughly enough and/or don’t feel like grating anymore. (For me, this conveniently happens at the half-cup mark.)

The Lazy Option: Use a robot with knives to make pesto

If you have a blender, immersion blender, or food processor (a.k.a. robots with knives), then you’re in luck! This mission will be over in a jiffy.

However, there are a few things to be aware of:

  • It might come out bitter – If you plan to use extra virgin olive oil, beware! Mechanical whirring blades may turn it bitter. How does this work? EVOO contains a lot of bitter-tasting molecular compounds called polyphenols. Normally, you can’t taste them because they’re coated in fatty acids, but the high-speed blending action shears off the fatty acids, exposing the polyphenols. When they come into contact with your tongue, it tastes bitter. However, if this doesn’t bother you, feel free to use EVOO.
  • You may end up making a lot – If you try to make too little pesto at a time in a machine, the blades won’t come into contact with the ingredients, and it’ll never mix properly. So you have to make a lot. This isn’t a problem if you are planning to have a pesto party, coat a room in pesto, or freeze the excess. Otherwise, I’d skip the machinery and just do it by hand.
  • The texture will be more liquidy – This is mainly a blender issue. Blends won’t blend properly unless you add a lot of liquid (in this case oil)—which you can see happening in the video. The final texture will be a lot more smooth and runny, like an herb smoothie. It’ll be far less chunky and spreadable than pesto made in a food processor or by hand. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but some folks like their pesto a little more rustic so they can spread it on sandwiches. Blender-made pestos tend to work better as a dressing or sauce.

If you still wanna use a machine, by all means! Here’s how you do it:

Start by blending just the nuts and the garlic, together with about a quarter-cup of oil (the oil is there to ‘lubricate’ the mixture so it blends; I used sunflower oil here). It doesn’t have to be super well blended, just roughly chopped.

Then stuff in the basil leaves and blend until smooth. You may have to add more oil to get it to blend.

Scoop the final result out into a bowl, and mix in the cheese by hand. This is how you get back some of that structure and viscosity.

Salt to taste, and you’re done!

You can now skip directly to the last step and upload your photo. Or you can watch the rest of the videos to see how it’s done by hand.

Don’t have a robot with knives? No problem! Let’s start by mincing some garlic.

The rest of these steps are for those of us who prefer to do things the old-fashioned way (and don’t want robots to have all the fun).

The first step is to mince garlic. The word “mince” just means chopping finely, until you get tiny little nubs.

Peel each clove and cut off the little nubbly root end. A trick for peeling garlic: place a knife blade over it and smash it with your fist. The peel will loosen and pop right off.

Now just start mincing it. And mincing it. And mincing it. Until the garlic pieces are quite small.

Mix in the nuts and keep chopping.

Sprinkle in some nuts and keep chopping, chopping, chopping. Do this until the nuts are all nicely pulverized and mixed in with the garlic.

Putting in a few nuts at a time does take a bit longer, but it helps you “layer” the textures of the ingredients. You’ll end up with some smaller pieces from the nuts you added earlier, and bigger pieces from the nuts you added later. This creates a bit more textural interest in the final product. Experiment to find the texture you like the most!

Mix in the flavorful herbs or whatnot, and… you guessed it! Keep chopping.

This is kind of a workout, isn’t it? But trust me, your knife skills will greatly improve by the time you are done! I also like to savor the wonderful smells wafting up for my cutting board. It can be a very invigorating and meditative experience.

Just keep chopping or blending until your pesto starts looking very crumbly, then stop.

Mix that whole mess into the cheese. Add olive oil until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Salt to taste.

Almost done! Scoop everything into a bowl with the flat of your knife, and mix in the cheese. Provided you’ve grated the cheese finely enough, it should just sort of disappear into the whole mixture.

Now pour in the olive oil slowly, a bit at a time, until the paste is thinned to your liking. You can use as much or as little as you like. Its purpose here is to bind all the ingredients and give it the right consistency—which of course is different for everyone.

Don’t forget to salt and taste!

And you’re done!

Here’s what you can do with your pesto:

  • toss with some pasta (the obvious answer!)
  • make a tomato mozzarella sandwich
  • serve spooned over steak, pork chops, fish, or chicken
  • mix with boiled potatoes to make the most amazing potato salad ever
  • same goes for chicken salad
  • toss in spiralized or thin cut zucchini, for those low-carb folks out there
  • spread on toast for breakfast or a quick snack
  • or just um… eat it with a spoon!

Pesto will keep for up to a week if you pour it into a jar and “seal” the top with a layer of olive oil (the oil prevents oxygen from turning everything brown—although in truth, this is more of an aesthetic consideration than a food safety one). For longer term storage, you can also freeze it. I like to scoop it into an ice cube tray, which gives me convenient single-serve portions to defrost. You can make a lot of pesto at once and have it on hand anytime you want.

Nicely done!

You made some delicious food. Now go enjoy it!

P.S. - If you want to show off your work on the lesson gallery, send me a picture.

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