Freshly made pesto is vastly superior to anything bought in a jar, which is why I never buy pesto and always make it myself from scratch. I’ve always used the ‘modern’ way of making pesto: in the food processor or blender. My Italian blogging buddy Tuttacronaca convinced me to try at least once to make it using the traditional method with mortar and pestle. And so I decided to do a side-by-side comparison. The word “pesto” has been derived from the word “pestle”. Making pesto in the food processor takes only a few minutes, whereas by hand with mortar and pestle it almost requires half an hour of hard work. So it’d better be worth it! Is it? Read on to find out!
Pesto alla Genovese is the original pesto from the city of Genova in Liguria. For this comparison of man versus machine I have used the official recipe of the Consorzio del Pesto Genovese that prescribes to use only basil, garlic, parmigiano, pecorino, pine nuts, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. When I was in the US I noticed that the basil there has a mint-like flavor that is different from the basil used in Liguria. Use Italian-style basil if you can for the original flavor.
For 450 ml (almost 2 cups) of pesto
75 grams (3 oz) basil leaves (no stems)
100 grams (3.5 oz) freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or grana padano
50 grams (1.75 oz) freshly grated pecorino (romano, toscano, sardo, or siciliano)
150 ml (2/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil, preferably ligurian
25 grams (1 oz) pine nuts
2-3 cloves garlic
2 pinches of coarse sea salt
Preparation with mortar and pestle
The pesto should be made as quickly as possible to reduce oxidation as much as possible.
Preparation with food processor or blender
The hand-made pesto is more creamy than pesto made by machine, which is slightly more coarse. The biggest difference in the taste: the machine pesto tastes fine, but the mortar and pestle version is vastly superior! The taste is deeper and rounder, and less bitter. Pestle and mortar are better at getting all of the taste out of the leaves than the blender, which causes this difference. The difference is such that I will make my pesto by mortar and pestle from now on, meaning that I’ll probably have to make it during the weekend if I want to have it on a weekday because working a mortar and pestle for half an hour is not something I like to do when I get home from a long day at the office.