Pesto made from basil, garlic, parmesan, pine nuts and extra virgin olive oil is a summertime classic. No need for introductions. The mixture of highly fragrant basil, creamy pine nuts and the salty parmesan has become an essential ingredient for summer. Growing your own basil in a pot on a sunny window sill is child’s play, and the first flush of leaves will dazzle you. Zejd’s extra virgin olive oil lets the basil take centre stage, as its mild, slightly peppery after-taste doesn’t fight with the fragrance of the basil. We chose to make pesto in a pestle and mortar, as suggested by Rachel Roddy. She points out the word pesto comes from the Italian “pestare” to pound. But feel free to use a food processor if that’s easier.
Our secret ingredient was the pine nuts. These are from Lebanon, brought back in a suitcase with a multitude of other delights. Much longer than supermarkets varieties, they’re often referred to as “white gold” (they cost around £80.00 a kilo). In Lebanon, they are highly prized in cooking, fried gently in butter and sprinkled over hummus, or added to a spiced minced meat mixture for kibbeh. But sadly as a result of a terrible harvest last year, their future is uncertain. An article in The Independent highlights their bleak future. Those who make their living from this “white gold” and other agricultural businesses in Lebanon are all under threat.
It takes considerable skill to harvest pine trees. Cones are collected by men who shin up tall pine trees. Hard work for £20 a day. And as many of the cones are empty, more trees have to be climbed. The cones have been devastated by two kinds of bugs – the pine shoot beetle and the conifer seed bug. Global warming has lead to the latter reproducing at a much greater rate, and they consume at a ferocious rate. The real worry for those who make their living from harvesting pine nuts, is that if the trees are not longer productive they will be felled for fire wood. With no means of being able to buy replacements, farmers will have to let the scrub oak to take over.
We hope that these Lebanese pine nuts will survive the economic crisis Lebanon is facing.
makes enough for drizzling over 2 grilled aubergines
- If you’re using a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic with a little salt until well blended. Add the leaves gradually, and when they’re all broken down, add some pine nuts. Once these are well broken down, add the remainder. You may find it easier to transfer it to another bowl to add the oil. Add this gradually so that it blends easily. Finally, fold in the parmesan. If the mixture is too thick, loosen it with some more oil.
- If you prefer to use a food processor, put all of the ingredients in the bowl, except the parmesan. Pulse, on and off until you’re happy with the texture. Then, by hand, stir in the grated parmesan. Loosen with more extra virgin olive oil if need be.
Use straightaway over grilled vegetables like aubergines and courgettes, cooked on a griddle or even better a barbecue. A spoonful also works wonders in a bowl of ribollita adding flavour and depth. If you’ve never added pesto to a risotto before, you’re in for a treat. Fold in 3 tablespoons just before serving to a plain risotto, and serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
What other things can you add it to?