Pesto alla genovese, originating in Genoa, the capital city of Liguria, Italy, delivers a vibrant, summery taste that touches on classic Italian fare. Moreover, this herby green sauce perfectly complements the abundance of fresh, rich ingredients for an unforgettable Italian meal.
Those of us who have made a homemade pesto sauce have likely used a blender to whip up a sauce far better than anything the store could provide. But suppose you could make your pesto sauce better.
Samin Nosrat, the acclaimed author of “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat” and star of its Netflix companion series, explains how to make your pesto sauce even tastier.
The Key To The Best Pesto Sauce
As seen on Netflix’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, Samit Nosrat learns from Nonna Lidia the traditional Italian method of making pesto using a mortar and pestle. Agreeably, using a mortar and pestle may not seem particularly groundbreaking. However, many purists agree that a mortar and pestle, the OG of blenders, is the key to the best pesto. Moreover, it delivers a flavor that cannot be replicated by quickly pulsing a blender or food processor.
When you look at the words pesto and pestle, you can see that they closely relate to the Italian verb pestare, meaning to crush or grind. Hence, a mortar and pestle is really the way to go.
Furthermore, the mortar and pestle method imparts more flavor to a pesto sauce and produces a creamier emulsion. In contrast, food processors and blenders chop and mince quickly, missing the mark in terms of flavor and leaving the sauce watery.
Try It Yourself
Nosrat’s creamy pesto recipe utilizes the traditional mortar and pestle method, yielding more flavorful, luscious results. While the basil will appear less uniform than it would if it had been blended in a processor, the rustic style provides a softer, more tender feel.
So, let’s get to it. You’ll need the below ingredients to get started:
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1 medium clove garlic, peeled
- 2 cups tightly packed Genovese basil leaves
- 2/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
- 1/3 cup finely grated pecorino
- Sea salt, to taste
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more as needed
- Start by adding the pine nuts to the mortar and pestle. Then, begin pounding and grinding the nuts until they resemble a fine paste. After, add the peeled garlic and continue to pound and mash until well blended.
- Depending on how large the basil leaves are, cut them with a knife if they do not fit into the mortar. Add the basil to the garlicky, pine nut mixture and season to taste with salt. Pulverize the basil leaves in the pestle until they break down completely and blend nicely into a lush green paste.
- As a final step, stir in the Parmesan and pecorino cheeses. Then, add the olive oil after the paste is green and thick. Stir to combine. If necessary, add more oil or salt. Serve with extra Parmigiano-Reggiano.