Pesto sauce - Recipes for pesto sauce made from fresh basil, pine nuts and olive oil.

pesto sauce
Pesto is an original, fresh herby sauce that is traditionally served with pasta.

In one form or another, pesto has been around since Roman times, although the pesto that we now know originates from Liguria, Italy, in the Genoa area, to be more precise, as its Italian name "pesto alla genovese" tells us.

The main ingredient of pesto sauce is basil, the fresher and more flavoursome the better. The best basil in Italy is grown in Liguria, which is probably why the sauce originated in this region.
Fresh basil can be bought from your local supermarket in the fresh herbs section, although if you are able to grow your own basil in your garden or even in a window box, your homemade pesto sauce is bound to be much more tasty and fresh.

The remaining ingredients that make up a pesto sauce are garlic, pine nuts, cheese, olive oil and salt and pepper.

There are variations on the above ingredients for example, walnuts are sometimes substituted for the pine nuts, the pine nuts may be toasted or roasted, a splash of lemon juice can be added and the type of cheese used depends on preferential taste.

The majority of recipes will call for freshly grated Parmesan, which is much better than the pre-packed grated Parmesan that you can buy from the supermarket.

For a stronger taste Pecorino (sheep's) cheese is used or a mixture of the two gives a full rich flavour.

As well as serving the pesto sauce with pasta, as is traditional, it can also be added to soups such as Minestrone or fish soup, in the final stages of cooking. Likewise, it can be used to spread onto bread or toast and can accompany cooked meat, poultry or even fish.

The preparation of pesto sauce does not involve cooking, which for some people may be a blessing in disguise. It was originally prepared by using a pestle and mortar, grinding all of the ingredients together to form a smooth paste.

Nowadays, most people use a food processor or blender to prepare their pesto sauce, which is handy if you are in a rush and do not have much time to prepare a meal. However, there are others who prefer to stick to the traditional method, as they say that the pesto sauce tastes much better.

Basically, the garlic, fresh basil, cheese and pine nuts are chopped and mixed together in the blender. Then, with the machine running, the olive oil is slowly poured into the processor and all of the ingredients are blended together. The sauce is then seasoned with the salt and pepper and is then ready to serve.

The pesto sauce may be kept for a week or slightly more in the refrigerator if you are not using it immediately. Store the sauce in an airtight container or jar with a thin layer of olive oil on top, which will prevent it from discolouring.

Below are several recipes for a classic pesto sauce.

Traditional pesto sauce

  • 1 cup of fresh basil
  • ¼ cup of freshly grated Pecorino cheese
  • 1/3 cup of freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup of pine nuts
  • 2 cloves of crushed garlic
  • salt
  1. Chop the basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt in a food processor until a purée has formed.
  2. Slowly add the olive oil, whilst the processor is still running and continue to blend for a few seconds.
  3. Switch the machine off and stir in the grated cheese.
  4. The sauce is now ready to serve, store in the refrigerator or freeze.

Spaghetti with fresh pesto sauce

  • 2 oz (55g) of chopped fresh basil and parsley
  • 4 tbsp of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 tbsp of pine nuts
  • 140 ml (¼ pint) of olive oil
  • 2 crushed cloves of garlic
  • salt and pepper
  • spaghetti
  1. In a food processor or blender combine the parsley, basil, crushed garlic and half of the pine nuts.
  2. Add the olive oil in a slow and steady stream whilst the machine is still running.
  3. Once the mixture has formed a thick and smooth paste, switch the machine off and add the salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Cook the spaghetti in a large pan of salted boiling water until al dente and then drain.
  5. Place the spaghetti back into the pan (without the water), add the pesto sauce and the Parmesan cheese and toss the spaghetti until it is coated evenly with the pesto sauce.
  6. Serve onto a warm plate and sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts. Serve immediately.

Fresh basil pesto sauce

  • 2 oz (55g) of fresh basil
  • 1 oz (30g) of fresh parsley
  • 1½ oz (40g) of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 oz (55g) of pine nuts
  • 2 oz of butter or margarine
  • 2 fl oz (55ml) of extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • salt
  1. Place the basil, parsley, garlic and Parmesan into a food processor and blend until the ingredients are finely chopped and combined together.
  2. Next, add the butter or margarine and continue to blend.
  3. Slowly pour the olive oil into the food processor whilst it is still running and sprinkle a pinch of salt into the mixture as well.
  4. Add the sauce to a bowl of freshly cooked pasta and sprinkle with the pine nuts. Serve immediately.

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