Pecorino Pesto

I really love pesto – it was always one of my favourite meals as a child, and I find even now that after eating it I always want more just an hour or two later. I make mine in the blender, and sometimes I wonder if it is the child in me who has always preferred that to unblended pesto. That is, until last night when Sebastian went through the most labour-intensive pesto-making practice I have ever witnessed (thanks to a mortar and pestle), which ended with possibly the best pesto I have ever eaten. We had spent the whole day yesterday walking around Leuven having coffee, eating ice-cream (they have speculaas gelato here which is at the extreme end of wonderful), looking at 15th century churches and beautiful old abandoned breweries, and buying the ingredients for dinner. Every ingredient that Seb used was bought on the day and pretty much all were sourced from a different specialty shop (we even got the olive oil at a special olive oil and balsamic vinegar store) or a stall at the Saturday market. I could gladly live like this for a very long time – and the results were unbelievably delicious. Here is how it was done…

Sebastian started by lightly toasting a big handful of pine nuts. (I have toasted pine nuts on this blog before, but I left them on for a lot longer and made them dark, whereas Seb only had his on, constantly shaking them around, for a few minutes at most until they smelled nice but looked mostly unchanged).

He then took out a massive stone mortar and pestle and ground up the following in it one at a time before transferring them to a large bowl: three or four cloves of garlic (well crushed); the toasted pine nuts (very roughly crushed so some of them still retained their shape); a bit bunch of fresh basil leaves (having really good quality fresh basil is so important even though when you have finished grinding them into a paste the amount you get out of them looks tiny); some sea salt and black pepper. Here are the pine nuts being crushed…

Into the bowl he grated a big slab of pecorino cheese (pecorino is a strong flavoured sheeps’ cheese and made an interesting deviation from parmesan which is traditionally used in pesto – this may have been one of the factors that made this meal quite as delicious as it was).

Finally, he squeezed in the juice of quarter of a lemon (maybe a little less) and added at least a cup’s worth (maybe a little more) of really good olive oil, and then he just mixed everything in together with a fork. The great thing about pesto is that, because it is uncooked, you can add anything more you want or change quantities if it doesn’t quite taste perfect. In the mixing process the tiny amount of basil that you appeared to be left with suddenly spreads.

And with this it was complete. All that was left to do was toss through some spaghetti and serve with a little more pecorino grated on top.

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2 thoughts on “Pecorino Pesto

  1. We have now acquired a big mortar and pestle at 29 Queen Street. Am just about to make pesto a la Sebastian! I’m sure we’ll never use the blender for it again. Will report back.

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