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Pesto: 5 mistakes we make often
Pesto: 5 mistakes we make often

Disclaimer: this is a post for everyone, from North to South, except for the Genoese, who already know that the pesto done by others (including myself) for them it is pure heresy.

Nor is it suitable for the adepts of the green gold brotherhood, those for whom the mortar is the only creed and the basil only the one that grows in Pra ', a suburb to the west of the capital, caught at dawn with its droplets of dew. and essential oils not yet attacked by the heat of the sun.

The same ones for which the pine nuts are collected in their garden, the oil is produced by uncle in the countryside, and so on.

That's all right, of course. But an honest homemade pesto from the housewife in Milan or Rome, Trieste or Barletta, with what she buys at the neighborhood market, will certainly be preferable to the jar in the supermarket.

Which, between us and with the due exceptions, is always half blind.

Put your hands forward, I am going to the usual list of the 5 errors, more or less serious, that can compromise the success of your sauce. Genoese and brothers, have pity on me?

1. Getting basil wrong

basil for pesto
basil for pesto

The disclaimer has completely taken away what should have been the introductory part of the post, which I therefore attach here.

What it is necessary to say, before going into the recipe, is that pesto must absolutely, strictly, unavoidably prepared in season when the basil is at its best, rich in aromas, consistent and turgid enough not to succumb to energetic processing.

Assuming you are not from Pra ', still choose Ligurian variety basil, or a plant whose leaves do not have hints of mint, as is the case with the Neapolitan variety.

As there is no law that says that the origin of basil must be indicated on the label (and in any case, the Genoese can also be grown elsewhere, even on your balcony), let's say that the right one has large, swollen leaves with smooth edges. The Neapolitan, so to speak, has small, pointed, slightly jagged leaves, more similar (in fact) to those of the mint it remembers.

Once you have chosen your beautiful bunch of basil, you can make a selection of the leaves. The small ones and the florets are more delicate, the large and well developed ones more intense and slightly bitter. You can select them according to the final taste you want to get even if my advice is to mix them as nature does on the stems, in order to have a harmonious final flavor.

I forgot: wash it well in plenty of fresh water (the bunch with the roots is often rich in soil) and dry it immediately to perfection: I find the centrifuge for the salad perfect or, when I'm in the countryside, a cloth closed in a bundle, to be rotated in the air until there are no more droplets.

2. Being undecided about garlic


Pesto without garlic: this is indeed a heresy. However, if the bulb exceeds it, it ends up covering all the other flavors as well as being indigestible (and keep in mind that digesting large amounts of basil is not easy too). So, dose it carefully.

I will now begin to give you some doses: for a bunch of basil (it will be about 70-80 g of leaves), I put only one clove. That, if necessary (guests with fine palates, picky children at the table, people like that) I soften it by blanching it in boiling water and, in any case, I squeeze it with a garlic press, never again equip it without retaining skins, cuticles and sprouts: in practice, the fibrous and indigestible parts (by definition, not by habit).

3. Not knowing which cheese to choose

pesto cheeses
pesto cheeses

Pesto has a disciplinary that states: Parmesan and pecorino. I find that only pecorino overcoats, like the aforementioned too much garlic. However, the regulations require that the sheep's cheese be Sardinian, and I can only agree.

But I really do not disdain the version of only Parmesan or even Parmesan. Do not stay here to discuss the superiority of one or the other: we are making a sauce in which the protagonist is basil. The supporting actors must be good actors, suitable for the part, but not excel. Honest grating cheese will be perfect for the role.

Doses: for the aforementioned bunch, 80-100 g, in the case of a mix in variable proportions according to your taste.

4. Being stingy

pine nuts, pesto
pine nuts, pesto

Yes, I know, pine nuts cost. But for the above doses (which, I hadn't told you yet, are enough for at least 8-10 portions of well-seasoned pasta), no more than 30, 40 grams are needed. How much will you save if you replace them with walnuts (among other things, with a too pronounced taste in my opinion) or cashew nuts as an aperitif?

The same goes for the oil: we are making a condiment that will be used raw, so the oil will feel and must be good, fragrant, fruity just the right way.

Discarding pizzichini and the like, choose a Ligurian oil or, if you really can't find it (but where do you live?), From Garda: in short, a quality with a clean taste that binds with the rest, as usual without overwhelming.

I, on my doses, use 1 glass not too large (let's say 150 ml).

5. Give up because you don't have the mortar


And here the arrows are unleashed: I usually make pesto in the blender. Also thanks to an old wrist fracture that makes me painful to work with the pestle for a long time.

Because mortar preparation requires elbow grease.

In the blender, on the other hand, just put everything in, add a pinch of coarse salt (it seems to keep the bright green), press the button and wait until you have reached the right homogenization. Without exaggerating: I find a certain "materiality" that enriches the pesto which, too smooth, seems fake.

The only precaution: keep the glass of the blender for a while in the freezer because the blades overheat during processing and the basil could blacken.

That said, those who want to use the mortar must do it in the right sequence: first garlic and salt until a creamy mush is obtained, then the pine nuts, then the basil (little by little), the cheeses and finally the oil, drop by drop. There are also those who crush up to cheeses, then emulsify the oil simply by mixing.

By the way: you know that, despite the name, the pestle should not be pounded up and down but rotated, right? Its tip and the bottom of the mortar are not rounded at all.

To the cool, white and smooth ceramic mortars, without harshness or personality, I prefer (and you do too) the rough ones in stone or slightly rough marble, which will exert a further mechanical effect on the ingredients.

Cast iron is not very suitable: if nothing happens when grinding dry spices, with the moist ingredients of pesto it immediately causes rust.

On the wooden ones, souvenirs of your last alpine holiday, I don't say anything. While a nice olive mortar, perhaps with a stone pestle (heavier), to be reserved only for this preparation, has a sort of elective affinity with the recipe.

And I conclude: never fail to dilute your pesto with the water from the pasta, taken just before draining, when it is richer in starch.

Here, I don't know more. What mistakes did I make, first, in compiling this post? Genoese, get under it.

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