August 8, 2016

Hungry? And Poor? Pass the Pesto Pronto! [Austerity Cooking #2]

The journey

Years ago as a poor student in Perugia, a matronly signora, in my pensione overlooking Fontana Maggiore - instructed me on the authentic way to make pesto. Of course, anyone can buy a ready-made-in-a-jar version. Too easy! And Nigella Lawson would NEVER do that! Moreover, I find some of the store-bought ready-mades, just overly salted & potentially full of unhealthy preservatives (although do find the Barillo brand superior to other copy-cats. But go for it, if time and money poor).

However, there's nothing so nice as picking a bunch of home grown fresh basil. Just the smell alone is stupendous ...And good for the senses and soul. Or you can get some already potted basil, that's ready to go from the green grocer. 

Returning to student days in downtown Perugia, I vividly recall the way we poveri studenti affamati - dined liked kings around a three hundred year old table in that centuries old pensione. And all that we ate was pesto with pasta, crusty bread and a good red wine.


I cannot recall la signora's name, but how I remember her pesto making method. For she drummed that technique into me, in the same way my teacher forced me to enunciate Italian vowels. That said, if la signora had a food blender, it was clearly neatly hidden away in a closet somewhere. 

La signora showed me the bunch of pesto, the big handful of parmesian cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil. And then out came - in line with other Etruscan kitchen utensils - an ancient wooden chopping board... upon which I could see a deep indentation - the size and depth of a dessert bowl. She then got out a wooden pestle. And like the rickety wooden stairs - that had a similar curvature - from centuries of footsteps climbing the winding, sturdy staircase - the chopping board also bore evidence of past decades of pesto sauce grinding.

So from this I continue enjoying making my own, back in sunny Australia. I've used blenders, but much prefer using a pestle and mortar. 

via flickr


  1. Place basil, pine nuts and garlic in a mortar bowl (or food processor.) Process (scraping down sides occasionally) until almost smooth.
  2. Add olive oil. Process until all oil is combined.
  3. Transfer pesto to a bowl. Add parmesan. Season with salt and pepper (although this is not essential.) Stir until well combined.

Toss with pasta of your choice: fettucini etc, even 2 minute noodles! My personal favourite is shell shaped pasta. Called conchiglie. This dish is perfect when accompanied with a good red wine.

via flickr

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Basil graphic via flickr

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