Simple, bright and bursting with herby flavour, fresh pesto always packs a punch. Make your own from scratch with these quick-as-you-like recipes.
Pesto (pesto alla genovese if you’re feeling fancy) is undoubtedly the unsung hero of kitchens across the nation. Whether you’re popping open a jar or whizzing up your own, pesto’s sunny flavour is exactly what we need to remedy a gloomy lockdown lunchbreak.
The glorious green paste is traditionally made from garlic, pine nuts, basil and parmesan (all blended together with a generous splash of olive oil) and can be added to almost any dish in need of a punchy injection of flavour. Stirred into pasta, smeared on bruschetta or spread on pizza as a tomato alternative, just like Nutella and halloumi – any form is delicious.
Another fun fact: the recipe originally dates back to the 12th century and was created in Genoa, an Italian city which today hosts the bi-annual World Pesto Championship. Even if you’re not into competitive sports per se, we suspect a pesto world cup is something you could get behind.
But if lockdown has forced you into a ‘a dollop of shop-bought pesto on a pan of slightly overcooked penne’ routine, we hear you. It’s time to give pesto the love it deserves – which means making your own.
Don’t get us wrong, readymade pesto is often a lifesaver. But not only is homemade pesto surprisingly quick and easy to make, it feels much fresher and more flavoursome than the stuff you buy in shops.
Remember those packs of peas languishing in the freezer? Aaron Bertelsen’s frozen pea and mint pesto is a great way to make use of any forgotten produce, while the mint infuses extra flavour.
The roasted red pepper pesto from Kirsty Scobie and Fenella Renwick, founders of acclaimed Scottish restaurant The Seafood Shack, is a rich and vibrant red sauce that will elevate the plainest bowl of fusilli.
And if you’re searching for pesto inspiration beyond the standard five ingredients, Laura Santini’s walnut and anchovy pesto definitely delivers that out-for-dinner feeling.
Lockdown meals don’t come speedier than this…
Aaron Bertelsen’s frozen pea and mint pesto
Aaron says: “An excellent item for your store cupboard, pesto is great for using up gluts of produce. This recipe is perfect for using up any forgotten peas in the freezer, and it is a real taste of summer, which I hanker for in the winter. It is delicious with pasta, adding a real depth of flavour.”
Makes 3 small jars
Preparation: 10 minutes
Cooking: 5 minutes
- 250g shelled fresh or frozen peas (about 900g in their pods)
- 2 fat cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 50g pine nuts, toasted
- 50g parmesan cheese, chopped into small chunks
- good handful mint leaves
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
Cook the peas in a pan of boiling water for 2–3 minutes, until just tender, then drain and refresh in cold water. Drain again and pat dry.
Tip the peas into a blender or food processor and add the remaining ingredients. Pulse very briefly, until everything is roughly chopped. Don’t overdo it – the mixture should still have some texture.
From The Great Dixter Cookbook by Aaron Bertelsen (£24.95, Phaidon), out now
Kirsty Scobie and Fenella Renwick’s roasted red pepper pesto
Kirsty and Fenella says: “Pesto is just lovely, simple and fresh and we use it all the time. In Ullapool in the spring we pick wild garlic that grows down by the river and add that in – if you can get hold of some, it’s a massive bonus.”
- 3 red peppers
- 50g pine nuts
- 50g fresh basil
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled
- 50g Parmesan, grated
- juice of 1⁄2 lemon
- olive oil
- salt and pepper
Roast or grill three red peppers drizzled with a little olive oil until the skin starts to brown (about 30 minutes).
Dry roast your pine nuts in a frying pan over a medium heat for about four minutes until they go a golden brown and smell delicious. Pull the stalks off your basil and discard them, as they make your pesto taste too strong.
Pop the leaves into a blender with the roasted red peppers, roasted pine nuts, garlic, Parmesan and lemon juice and blitz, then pour in the olive oil with the blender still running until you have a smooth paste that isn’t too runny or too thick.
Taste and season with salt and pepper if it needs it.
From The Seafood Shack: Food & Tales from Ullapool by Kirsty Scobie & Fenella Renwick (£20, Kitchen Press), out now
Laura Santini’s walnut and anchovy pesto
Laura says: “This tasty pesto keeps in the fridge for up to 3 days when covered with a layer of olive oil. It is also delicious on chicken, steaks and fish, not to mention roasted or spiralized vegetables. a handful of sundried tomato halves, either in oil or dried (dried are more salty, so start with only 3 anchovy fillets).”
- 3–6 anchovy fillets (to taste)
- a handful of walnut halves, toasted until rich and nutty
- a large handful of flat leaf parsley
- a large handful of basil leaves
- a handful of aged pecorino cheese chunks (about 60g)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- grated zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 large lemon
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil, plus extra if needed
- a pinch of cayenne pepper
- 400–600g dried pasta or 320–480g fresh pasta
- ½ bag of baby spinach leaves, washed and spun
- 400g heritage/heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped into chunks
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil for the pasta.
Meanwhile, place the sundried tomatoes, anchovies, walnut halves, parsley, basil, pecorino, garlic, lemon zest and juice and olive oil in a food processor or blender and pulse to a rough pesto consistency. Add more oil if the mixture is too dry or until you have the desired consistency.
Season to taste with cayenne pepper, salt and black pepper.
When the salted water is at a rolling boil, add the pasta and cook according to the instructions on the packet.
Drain the pasta but keep a cup of the cooking water.
Toss the hot pasta with enough pesto to coat well. Add the baby spinach leaves and chopped tomatoes and toss again to mix. Add a tiny splash of the retained pasta water to moisten if necessary.
This dish can either be served immediately or prepared a little in advance and served at room temperature.
From Pasta Perfect by Laura Santini (£14.99, Ryland Peters & Small), out now
Photography: Andrew Montgomery; Christopher Scholey, Ryland Peters & Small