A million years ago, when Meg in Paris and I were roomies in a coachhouse on Seminary Avenue in Chicago, we had a concrete planter out front. At this point in time my culinary capabilities extended to boiling water. And I didn't always know what to use that water for - my girlfriend at the time laughed for seven minutes solid when I asked how to cook frozen ravioli. Boiling just didn't seem right at the time.
Now, I mention the planter because in that planter, Meg in Paris (who was then just Meg in Chicago, planning to go to Paris possibly) planted a variety of basils. We had lemon basil, purple basil, Italian basil, you name it. At the end of the season, Meg made a big batch of pesto, which I instantly fell in love with. Thanks to my limited skills, I assumed she'd used some sort of voodoo to make the basil in our garden turn into pesto in my belly.
Until tonight, I'd never tried making pesto. When the farmer's market my wife and I went to this morning had basil on sale, I knew my pesto-making-virginity was soon to end. And it did, deliciously.
Here's the recipe I used, cobbled together from a couple of cookbook recipes and an Internet formula or two:
3 cups basil leaves, cleaned very well, spun dry
3 cloves garlic, peeled, crushed
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup grated Parmagiano Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
½ cup olive oil
Since it was my first time, I fel it was important to do things the old fashioned way, in a mortar with a pestle. I have a mortar and pestle thanks to the old girlfriend mentioned above.
Start by combining the garlic and salt. Mash with mortar and work the salt in to the garlic. Add the pinenuts. Mash and press in a circular motion with the pestle until the garlic, salt, and nuts are all well incorporated.
Add the basil leaves a bunch at a time. You can shred the leaves ahead of time to be more thorough, but I took them whole. Continue working the basil into the mix until you have a mostly uniform paste with no big leaves left. At this point, add the cheeses and mix throughly. I had to transfer the mix to a bowl to do this becasue my mortar had no room. Use a fork to mix the cheeses into the paste. Finally, add the olive oil and mash into the paste with the fork.
Taste for salt. It probably won't need any since the cheeses are pretty salty.
Serve on pasta or spread on crostini and broil. Heck, eat it by the spoonful if you want. It's much better than those store bought pestos and you made it yourself.