My youngest loves pesto. A friend made fresh pesto once when we were over for dinner, the kids had already had something to eat earlier, they were quite little at the time. The bowl of spaghetti and pesto was put in front of me with that gorgeous smell that you only get with freshly made pesto, it makes my mouth water just thinking of it. As soon as I picked up my fork, I had a small person climbing on my lap, hand in the bowl and stealing my dinner – I think I only got about half of the serving. Small happy boy sat on my lap looking slightly green – green oily chin, green splatters on his t-shirt, all quite messy.
From then on, a quick easy dinner on a busy evening was the P dinner – pasta, pesto and peas. Several years on, it still makes son the younger happy especially if I make extra so that he can take some in his lunchbox the next day to school.
I have been meaning to make my own pesto for ages and, prompted by a pot of basil sitting on my favourite vegetable stall at the market, I grabbed some and had a go. A small bag of pinenuts, some olive oil, some garlic and some Parmesan, the wonders of hand held blender with the food processor attachment and, hey presto, the amazing aroma of fresh pesto.
So tasty, so simple, so I will share…..
A generous bunch of pesto (I used a whole pot)
50g Parmesan cheese or Pecorino (or a mixture)
150mls good olive oil
Simply put it all into a food processor and whizz. Or use a hand held blender with the right attachment, I guess you could use a blender. Then breathe in that smell of basil and garlic.
Recently, pesto hit the headlines for salt content. There has been a big move by manufacturers in recent years to reduce the salt content of their foods to meet targets set for product type. This move began in 2005 and has made a significant drop in the average salt intake of the UK population.
CASH (Concensus Action on Salt and Health) has found that many brands of pesto have increased the level of salt in their pestos in the last few years and can give a pretty hefty dose of salt per serving.
I didn’t add any salt to my pesto and it tasted amazing. I understand that commercial producers need to add some salt for microbiological safety and shelf life. But I do think it is shame that salt levels have increased. All manufacturers should do their part in making their products a little bit better rather than a little bit worse – or at least stay stable.
If you only have shop bought pesto occasionally, it probably doesn’t matter that much. No food should be off limits. But do take time to compare brands and go for those brands that are keeping the salt levels lower, they will still taste good. Market shares do affect what companies do. If more people are buying the lower salt pesto brands, then other brands will follow. Maybe you can skip adding salt to your pasta water if you are going to smother it in pesto.
Or you can dust off the food processor and make your own. No salt necessary or at least only what you choose to put in. There will be a salty kick to the flavour given by the strong Parmesan or Pecorino cheeses used for pesto. You can adjust the amount of garlic to your taste. It will keep for a couple of weeks in the fridge and you can freeze it so whip up a big batch for your own convenience food.