Pesto in Italy and Pesto in the rest of the world; is just not the same. So what is it that makes authentic Italian pesto unlike any pesto you have ever tasted? Is it as simple as making it by hand or are there certain techniques that ensure a successful or a flopped pesto? The following will give some general hints as to how to make the perfect pesto from scratch.
Pesto originated from the region of Liguria. It is named for the method of its preparation – pestatura – grinding of the leaves and the other ingredients in a traditional marble mortar (murta) using a wooden pestle (pestellu). This gives us a hint of the true key to the perfect pesto – that is hand-grinding using a mortar and pestle. Most pesto that you will encounter, will have been machine blended. This causes the ingredients to become homogenized into a paste with little or no definition between them. By hand chopping the ingredients, you allow for definition between them so that when you taste the final product of the dressed dish, individual flavours pop into your mouth in a unique way for a unique taste.
Ideally, when chopping the ingredients, you should chop some of the ingredients, then add some and chop some more. Continue this way until all ingredients have been added and chopped. This allows for different sizes of cut ingredients throughout the pesto, which adds to its texture and character.
Make sure that you use a sharp knife when chopping the basil for your pesto. If your knife is blunt, the basil will turn a dark shade. It can take twenty to thirty minutes to chop all of the ingredients for a pesto, so a sharp mezzaluna (preferably with a large, single blade) is the ideal knife to use. The ingredients often get stuck in the double bladed knives, so these can become frustrating to use. A half-moon shaped pizza cutter can work a treat as well.
Genovese pesto is made with small, young basil leaves – a distinction that has made it famous. It is possible to find these in the stores, but if you grow your own basil that will afford you the flexibility of choice of basil leaves that may make all the difference to your pesto.
Seasoning is very important with your pesto. It is quite acceptable not to add salt to the pesto, but if you are serving it on pasta, then make sure that you salt the water for your pasta well, or the overall flavour will be lost. You may need to slightly adjust your seasoning before serving.
Pesto tastes best when it is served soon after it is made, though it will last a short time in the fridge. If you are serving your pesto on pasta, you can add some of the pasta water to thin it for more coverage, but this is not a necessity. Just before serving, give the pesto a good stir to mix the olive oil in with the basil leaves, dress your dish and have a treat.
Recipe of the Day – Pesto Chicken Swirl
This recipe assumes that you have made your own tradition pesto (ie a combination of garlic, olive oil, basil and roasted pine nuts). If commercial pesto is used, may be add a bit of coarsely crashed roasted pine nuts and/or chopped basil leaves to enhance the texture and flavour.
1. 1 Skinless Chicken Breast
2. 50g of Gourmet Cherve (or any mild goat cheese or fetta)
3. 3 Tspn of your homemade Pesto
4. 1/4 Cup of Olive Oil
5. 1 Tspn of roasted Pine Nuts
6. 1/2 Cup of Chicken Stock
7. Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Pound your chicken breast to a thin piece. To minimise the mess of the pounding you could create, just make sure you cover the chicken breast with a layer of glad-wrap while pounding. Make sure to avoid pounding through the meat creating holes.
2. Spread the Pesto on one side of the chicken generously and season with salt and pepper.
3. Coarsely crushed the cheese and arrange on one side of the chicken and sprinkle the roasted pine nuts along the cheese. Make sure this is arranged to allow you to roll the chicken with the cheese becoming the centre of the roll. Also make sure there is enough room at both ends to allow you to secure it with wooden skewers to prevent the cheese filling from escaping from the roll.
4. Roll the chicken to ensure it is a reasonable tight roll, securing both ends. If the chicken is too big a piece, cut it into half, it is easy to cook and less likely to fall apart if the roll is smaller but big enough to cut into half (if not thirds). Brush the chicken roll with olive oil generously.
5. Heat up a pan with some olive oil. When the oil is hot enough (but not smoking), place the chicken roll with the unseal side down first and turn down the flame to medium. Gently pan fried the chicken rolls about 5 minutes on each side depending on the thickness of the roll.
6. Pour in chicken stock and cover to simmer for 10 minutes (make sure that the stock does not dry up, add hot water if stock looks like drying up).
7. Dish up the chicken roll and remove the skewers at both ends of the roll. Cut the roll diagonally in half to review the cream, green and white swirling colour effect of the roll. Drizzle the remaining cooking juice from the pan onto the roll. Server it with either cooked vegetables or salad.