Thursday, January 28, 2010


"I thought I'd never have to say this but...did you wash that hammer before you used it?"

That was my friend Jim, eyeing my pesto-making methods warily one weeknight. We had decided to make homemade pesto. In the absence of a food processor, I resorted to cutting basil leaves into thin strips, then spreading them over a large cutting board and mashing them with a hammer. The result was messy. And tasty.

Hammer or food processor, pesto is a unique alternative to red or white sauce when cooking pasta, or making pizza. While it has a high fat content, most of that is from olive oil and pine nuts or walnuts.

The other benefit of eating pesto is that the olive oil is not heated, and thus retains all the complexities of its flavor. Many people are not familiar with its great taste, which comes from chemicals that evaporate in the high heat of sauteeing and frying (1).

A nice recipe for pesto can be found here. The ingredients are simple and from there it is a game of ratios. Increase and decrease amounts to suit your palate. I recommend using regular olive oil, not extra virgin, because it gives pesto a little bite. Toss with linguine noodles and chicken with no preservatives for a tasty dinner. Fresh noodles, found in the refrigerated section of the grocery store, compliment pesto nicely. If you want some adventure, try these Luscious Oatmeal Dinner Rolls as a side.

A strange note: pesto made with a hammer, while not recommended for the faint of heart (basil brutality), tastes better than pesto made with a food processor. It may be because of (1) the manner in which the basil leaves are cut, (2) the quality of parmesan cheese used, (3) the quality or type (extra virgin or regular) of the olive oil used, (4) the well-known fact that food tastes better after hard work!


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