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Basic pesto making guide

Updated: May 9, 2021

You may have seen loads of different pesto recipes online - every single time you decided to made a batch you did not remember the amounts you used to use last time... Or maybe I'm wrong and you just improvised?...

Well, cooking is about creativity so there is nothing wrong with that. But it is also about being smart and organised, understanding the ingredients, their role and proportions between them as then remembering becomes easier and you will cut the time you used to spend on preparation in half also making it a lot easier for you to create your own variations and recipes in a future.

I strongly recommend having a good weight scale or even two where one is for the heavy stuff, up to a 3kg should be enough, and a precise one with at least two decimal spaces - for weighting dried herbs, xantham gum, 2xagar etc. Also you may notice that in my recipes I do not use milliliters or liters, simply be cause there is no point! If you got a weight scale it is a lot faster to weight an amount of liquid or goods like nuts, flour and more than to measure its volume and furthermore, more accurate way of measuring. For your information, as you will be using different recipes from other websites/blogs/etc. it is good to keep in mind that liquids, other than just plain water, will weight either more or less than their volume equivalent (for example, 1 litre of oil weights just below 1kg) but in many cases it is close enough to round it up.


After doing a bit of research and analysing different pesto recipes I have noticed they are based on average oil to water ratio ranging from 2:1 to 1:1 (I treat any green leaves like rocket, basil, wild garlic as water as that's what they are mainly made out of). To make your own pesto, basically you will need to mix them both together add extra flavours like nutritional yeast, salt, pepper and textures like nuts (if blended they will thicken up the sauce). It is good to note that acids like lemon juice and vinegar, preserve a bright colour that comes out of the leaves that you are using. Therefore, do not ever attend to blend the leaves on their own as they will oxidise and become dark green, while at the same loose some of their nutritional value.


Finally, you have to consider how do you attempt to use the pesto. If what you're making is for the spreading purposes you would use more oil for a thicker texture but it is going to be a pasta sauce then, using more leaves is the way to go. Otherwise, you can always make thick batch and dilute it with water water or oil to go with your pasta or gnocchis which is what I do. More versatile.

Fun fact: Good to know that similar ratio principles (1:1) applies when making soy based mayonnaise. Simple and quick combination of oil blended with soy drink. The science behind the making of this all-round condiment is based on the fact that soy, or actually lecithin it contains, acts as an emulsifier and binds water and oil molecules together. Adding more oil will result again in a thicker texture (did you know you can freeze this type of mayonnaise and just blitz it again after thawing?)

Ingredients:

  • 75g fresh basil, kale, rocket leaves, wild garlic or parsley. Washed, drained and pat dry (more or less is fine but remember the better you dry it out now, the less amount of water moisture you will have and less amount of oil you will have to add to compromise its wet texture)

  • 75g olive oil (or cold pressed rapeseed)

  • 1-2 medium sized garlic (unless you are using wild garlic then skip that)

  • Half a lemon juiced (around 20g). Always use unwaxed lemons. Adding lemon zest can be a great variation to your pesto so feel free to dig out your grater now if ya want.

  • 2 tbsp nutritional yeast

  • 1 1/2 tsp Maldon sea salt (or 1 tsp if using fine salt)

  • 1/2 tsp of black pepper

  • 30g sunflower seeds (or pine nuts)

Directions:

  1. Place all the ingredients (apart from sunflower seeds) in a food processor and blend for around one minute or until smooth, scraping out the sides if necessary.

  2. Add sunflower seeds and give it another whizz on a high speed setting just to mix it all together and break a few seeds for a better texture.

  3. I recommend using dried basil in wild garlic pesto recipe (2 tsp is great). You can either leave it to infuse in oil for around 15 minutes or add it as you're making the pesto but then the flavour will need at least a quarter of an hour to develop but that's what I do myself as I rarely need to eat it right away and I know more or less how much I want already with trying tasting it.

Tips:

  • Replace seeds with what you think will work the best in the pesto you are making. Bitter walnuts pairs well with rocket (then also with fruity flavours like chopped dried cranberries in your meal), cashews are as versatile as the pine nuts and sunflower seeds

  • If you are using greens with a thick stem, let's say carrot leafs then make sure to use only the soft part, I mean leafs and most but not all the stem. The reason is, thick stems won't get cut with even the toughest blender, leaving long, chewy fibres in your pesto.


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