Nowadays we find ourselves throwing caution to the wind with innovative combinations such as ginger, mint, basil and coriander, sun-dried tomato and roasted garlic,fava bean and rocket and pestos made with both black and green olives.The traditional pine nut too is often now traded in favour of more exotic nuts like pistachio,marcona almond,walnut and dry roasted peanuts.I bet the queen of Italian gastronomy Marcella Hazan is turning in her grave at the very thought of a beetroot and lemon pesto.And it is she that I turned to seek advice on how to make the best home made pesto.I am so glad I did because having pestle and mortared my way through the process over the years I suddenly found new tips that proved more than worthwhile.If you are using the processor method she suggests washing the basil before you blitz it and then only process the garlic and pine nuts with it, saving the cheese element to be stirred through with a wooden spoon only when you are ready to use it.It is well worth the slight effort to do it by hand to obtain the notably superior texture it produces.When the cheese has been evenly amalgamated with the other ingredients she mixes in softened butter,distributing it evenly into the sauce.This dramatically lifts the dish to a level I have never tasted before.When spooning the pesto over the pasta,she dilutes it slightly with a tablespoon or two of the hot water in which the pasta has been cooked.The late Antonio Carluccio applies the same method,perhaps it was a generational thing?
Trofie is the traditional pasta to serve with pesto,but fusilli works just as well.Pesto should always be used raw, at room temperature,and never warmed up.
For the `improved´pesto sauce
FOR THE PROCESSOR
100g /3.5 oz fresh basil leaves
8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
FOR THE COMPLETION BY HAND
50g / 2oz freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
2 tbsp freshly grated romano cheese
45g / 1.5 oz butter softened to room temperature