You say pesto, I say pistou

June 26, 2006

Pesto ingredients

When faced with great raw ingredients it’s usually a good idea to do the obvious. This week’s box had a decent size bunch of powerfully fragrant basil. Had there also been a bunch of fine tomatoes it would have been fitting to arrange them, sliced on a big white plate and break the basil over, along with olive oil and generous seasoning. In the absence of tomatoes the only respectful option seemed to be pesto.

Now I could be wrong, but my belief is there’s a French and an Italian version of pesto sauce. The Italian version, obviously, is the one most people are familiar with – the thick sludgy paste of fresh basil, olive oil, pinenuts, parmesan and, optionally, garlic. On the other hand, there’s the southern French version – pistou. This is basically a garlic and basil butter added to soup rather than eaten with pasta. There’s a recipe in Elizabeth David’s French Country Cooking, if you’re interested.

Whether pesto or pistou – both feel right. What feels wrong is all the other strange concoctions masquerading as pesto. Like a veg-box Zammo, just say no to coriander, sun-dried toms, mint, olives, lemongrass and all other strange pesto-a-likes. Or anything out of a jar. Shameless gastro-snobbery, I know.

For me, making pesto gives even more pleasure than eating it. The intense smell that rises when you pound the basil in a pestle and mortar is one of those definitive cooking aromas – up there (almost) with onions softening in butter or lamb on a barbeque. Making it in a blender makes a smoother sauce, and just as tasty, but the process offers far less therapeutic value.

As I sit writing this post, stiffening-up after a day of lugging soggy concrete around the garden, I can almost still smell yesterday’s bowl of garlic-intense pesto. Home-made pesto has to rank as one of the finest pleasures available to the smug veg-box enthusiast.

3 Responses to “You say pesto, I say pistou”

  1. BB's Richard Says:

    Oh sure, there’s a picture of a mortar and pestle, but we all know that Gastropunk actually uses a Flava Shaka!

  2. Mr Shredder Says:

    I have never made pesto, but you have just motivated me! Your right about the smells. But as you say so many of the off the shelf products inn the supermarkets don’t even come close…

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