Like so many other things, I make pesto by rote so I’m going to borrow Ina Garten’s recipe and provide my own smartass commentary tricks.

  • 1/4 cup walnuts (I don’t use walnuts in pesto, nor do I like mint in pesto)
  • 1/4 cup pignolis (oh yes, and I toast them beforehand, and it’s more like…um…3/4 cup because I do love me some pignolis and what I don’t use in the pesto, I’ll eat myself)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped garlic, about 9 cloves (right on, but here’s my trick:  I smash the cloves and saute them in olive oil first.  I love pesto but the raw garlic in it just kills me.  I don’t love pesto enough to be still tasting it 2 hours later, know what I mean?  So I got the idea to caramelize the garlic first to take the edge off and see if it helped.  Oh it helped.  Howling success)
  • 5 cups fresh basil leaves, packed (naturally)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (yep, and don’t leave it out)
  • 1 1/2 cups good olive oil (yes, but I can’t verify the measurement, I just stream it into the food processor until the pesto looks right)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan (too much; I start with about 1/3 cup and fiddle from there)

If so desired, toast the pine nuts in a skillet over low heat.  Babysit them because they will burn easily.  I once watched an Iron Chef episode where the challenger burned the pignolis not once, not twice, but three times.  They lost.

Also if desired, smash the garlic cloves with the blade of your knife and saute them in a little oil until soft and caramelized.

Place the pignolis and garlic in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade.  Process for 15 seconds.  Add the basil leaves, salt, and pepper.  With the processor running, slowly pour the olive oil into the bowl through the feed tube and process until the pesto is thoroughly pureed.  Add the Parmesan and puree for a minute.  Taste and fiddle with additional cheese and/or salt to taste.  I find if anything seems overpowering, a handful of baby spinach leaves tones things down.

Use right away or store the pesto in the refrigerator or freezer with a thin film of olive oil on top.


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