Basil is one of my favourite herbs, the aroma is enticing and when I was in London I grew pots and pots of it in the garden. I grew bog standard basil, Thai basil and Greek basil. Greek basil has much smaller leaves and honestly since I couldn’t taste any difference, it seemed like so much harder work to use than ordinary basil. The Thai basil was a bit more temperamental and harder to grow. I had planted it with the idea of cooking one of my favourite Thai dishes, Chilli Beef with Basil. I didn’t even make it once. By the time I remembered that the purple herb was in fact Thai basil, it was past its best and there you go.
Ordinary basil thrived however and was most often used torn over fresh mozzarella di buffala and some olive oil. My other main use was today’s recipe, Pesto, an easy recipe which freezes easily. I remember one summer calling Matt from France to talk through the recipe for pesto, so that he could, in my absence, harvest the basil and get it in the freezer. I obviously cared a great deal more about the ordinary basil than I did the Thai basil!
There are different variations of pesto but I really prefer the classic Italian recipe.
Pesto – Ingredients
- 75 g / 3 oz basil
- 30 g / 1 pine nuts, roast gently in a pan – do not burn, be careful.
- 30 g / 1 oz, freshly grated parmesan
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Olive oil, at least 100 ml 3. 5 fl oz
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
The traditional Italian method is to crush a teaspoon of salt with the garlic with a mortar and pestle. When this has become a paste, add the pine nuts and basil and crush. Add the cheese and oil. Stir. If the mixture seems a bit thick, add more oil.
It is absolutely fine to put all the ingredients in a mixer – only use about 50 ml of oil. Add more oil until you get the consistency you require. I have used both methods and can’t taste the difference.
For those of you who can’t eat nuts, there is the southern French dish of Pistou, traditionally served with a rich vegetable soup. I would put all the ingredients into a mixer – much the easiest method.
Pistou – Ingredients
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tsp salt
- 50 g / 2 oz basil leaves
- 100 ml / 3 fl oz olive oil
- 75 g / 3 oz finely grated Mimolette cheese (have also used parmesan and while not authentic it tasted lovely)
Both pesto and pistou freeze well. I used to put them in an ice cube tray and when frozen, put into a plastic bag. Pesto and pistou both taste wonderful with fish or meats. One ice cube will serve two people.
BTW, if you were wondering, the title is supposed to be shouted a la Sybil Fawlty.