If you are going to love me, just love me. I don’t need any jewelry, clothes that are too tight, or fast cars. If I have to chop something, give me a knife. I don’t like gadgets. That chopper thing that comes on late night television comes on late night for a reason. You’re not thinking with a whole head at 3:30 in the morning, and anything with that many parts for $9.99 is going to look like a deal. After a few nights running, it might even look like a deal that you should take advantage of.
You know to every rule there is an exception. I’m not saying I don’t like flowers. And if a gadget makes it 6,000 years, you to have to at least consider it. The mortar and pestle has been around a long time. It’s not going to get the job done with the speed of a food processor, but it releases the oils and smashes an herb or a spice in a way that even a knife can’t get close to.
Pesto made in a mortar and pestle is a whole other thing. It’s not quite your classic pesto texture, and it’s not the separate little pieces that you would get from chopping by hand, but somewhere in between, with a deeper, fuller, more of a grandmother in the kitchen cooking all day, kind of flavor. The mortar and pestle set comes in all sizes, and you may even want to get a couple of them, so that you have a tiny one for crushing spices and another one if you are making sauces like olive tapenade or pesto.
Here’s your technique: pound up and down a few times, and then smash in more of a circular motion, until everything looks pretty much uniform. For basil pesto, start with the pine nuts, about half a cup. When you have them smashed into a paste, set them aside. Add a clove of garlic, smash that, add a little salt, and then a few drops of your best extra virgin olive oil. Little by little, add two cups of completely dry basil leaves, along with more olive oil, just a bit at a time, until everything is a gorgeous paste. Taste for salt. If you like parmesan, add it at the end with a little ground black pepper. Stir in the pine nuts. If you are going to use the pesto as a condiment for chicken or fish, forget the cheese and the pine nuts, and add a few heaping spoonfuls of fresh breadcrumbs instead. Don’t forget to save a little of the cooking water from the pasta, just in case you need a spoonful of it to moisten the pasta once the pesto has been stirred in.