Hand Made Pesto | Zeffirino Pesto

Hand Made Pesto (Zeffirino Pesto) I

Hand made, home made pesto is the most exquisite of creations. Do try it.

Feel free to browse recipes from our Retro Recipes series. You might also like our Pesto recipes here and here. Or you might like to browse Italian recipes here and here. Check out our easy Summer recipes here and here.

Hand Made Pesto (Zeffirino Pesto)

I recently came across this, which reminded me of a conversation on Boxing day with Bill and Karen, friends of my brother, while eating Bill’s excellent pesto. The recipe is enough to make you reach for the basil plant, and dig out the mortar and pestle. You can smell the basil even while reading the recipe…. and taste the pasta. I often leave out the walnuts.

Interestingly, I also saw Bill of the famous Bills and Bills 2 Restaurants in Sydney, and author of Sydney Food, make it by hand. He does not have a cupboard full of gadgets in his kitchen at home (including no blender), and so always makes it by hand. A man after my own heart – Meditation in the kitchen through grinding. Go Bill!

I hear that Pesto is a speciality of Liguria in North Western Italy. A dash of cloves may be added to improve the flavour of basil that has not been grown in the hottest of suns. Pesto can be made in bulk and frozen.

Pesto is very susceptible to oxidation – exposed to air it browns rapidly, and the flavour is greatly reduced. It is especially a problem if the basil has been pureed to much (hence my preference for handmade rather than blender) or if the pesto has been frozen and rethawed. There is no easy way to reduce this, so the best way to consume pesto is as soon as possible after making (or make immediately before consuming), and keep its container closed as much as possible.

In Southern Italy, a red pesto is made from sun-dried tomatoes, chillies, olive oil, parmesan cheese and basil. Because of the extra acidity, it is much more stable against oxidation.

The recipe for pesto can be generalised to other herbs, for example, from chervil or lemon balm are quite extravagant pesti. Coriander Pesto is good. In Germany, a Green Sauce is made in similar fashion from a mixture of 7 herbs.

3 cups basil leaves 4 cloves garlic 3 Tblspn pine nuts
1 Tblspn walnuts 70 g parmesan 15 g sheep’s cheese (optional)
100 ml good virgin olive oil

The Zeffirino Pesto insists on use of the mortar and pestle, and on basil with the smallest leaves you can find, to ensure pesto made in heaven.

Place 3 tightly packed cups of basil leaves, well rinsed and drained but never wrung out, into a large mortar, and grind to a paste with enough salt to give the pestle a good grip (about 1 tspn). Add 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped, 3 Tblspn pine nuts and 1 Tblspn walnuts and continue to grind with the pestle until the ingredients are pulverised.

When the mixture is well ground, and still using the pestle, add 70g grated parmesan and 15 g of a mature Sardinian sheep’s cheese. (The sheep’s cheese is for piquancy, but the parmesan alone is more typical. Use only parmesan if you prefer.)

Lastly, stir in with the pestle about 100 ml excellent virgin olive oil or enough to make the pesto light green. If the sauce is too dense, thin with some water taken from the pot while the pasta is boiling. To serve, place the sauce in the base of a serving bowl, add the drained pasta and stir the pesto through before serving immediately.


From the Dips, Sauces and Pastes Series


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