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Why did my Pesto have so much kick?

I made Pesto last night, following the basic recipe (basil, pecorino romano, garlic, olive oil, toasted pine nuts) and it tasted pretty good, but it had a serious kick to it. Like a bit of spiciness. At first I just thought it was because Pecorino Romano is really sharp, but I tasted the cheese itself this morning and sure it was sharp and salty but not with this kick that the pesto had.

Anyone have any idea what caused it? Did I maybe put in too much or too little of something? I think I burned my pine nuts a little -- would that have caused this?

Or does anyone have any ideas how I could bring down the spiciness? I've been thinking of mixing in a little Spinach with my Basil or a little Parmesean with my Pecorino Romano, would this tone down the kick?

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  1. Perhaps the garlic was very strong?

    1 Reply
    1. re: DMW

      I think it's the garlic too. Maybe use less next time? I know that when I buy garlic fresh from the farmers market it really kicks! HUGE flavor compared to grocery store garlic.

    2. It was more than likely the garlic. Raw garlic can be "spicy," like you describe. Cheese can be sharp, but not really in that way.

      2 Replies
      1. re: C. Hamster

        Thanks to everyone for the replies! I generally like garlic and recipe said 1-2 cloves. So I put in two cloves, but honestly they were very big cloves. I'll try it with less next time!

        1. re: zeprosnepsid

          I know exactly what you mean and am sure it's the garlic. You could try using one raw clove and one roasted. I often do that to cut down on the bite.

      2. May have been the garlic, but it could also have been the basil. I find that late-season basil can start to taste a little bitter and concentrated. I just made a batch of pesto (like half an hour ago) and I know that the stuff I made today tastes nothing like the stuff I made in July.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Nyleve

          Late-season basil can taste and smell a bit like licorice, too.

          1. re: Nyleve

            That's what I was thinking, too. There's a lot of variation in basil, and sometimes it is really strong.

          2. Did you know there are various varieties of basil, one of which is extremely spicy? I can't remember if it is called cinnamon basil or pepper basil, but it has a purple tinge to it.

            Way overtoasting the pine nuts would just make them a bit bitter.

            Spinach should dull down the intensity of an overly-potent basil. Loads of people add spinach.

            2 Replies
            1. re: charlesbois

              holy basil.

              it's peppery, yes, but not really 'spicy.'

              definitely sounds like it was a garlic issue.

              1. re: charlesbois

                I don't know anything about basil, but I'm learning!

                I just used the basil from Whole Foods, it was the only one I could find, it just says 'fresh basil'. I still have cheese leftover so I was going to go down to the farmer's market today and get some more basil and give the recipe another shot....with less garlic...

                and glen, I like the roasting idea. I've always like roasted garlic and I could see where that might cut down the spice.

                Thanks again everyone!

              2. FOLLOWUP! It was, of course, the garlic. Cutting down made the Pesto taste just right.

                We tried the basic recipe (basil, pecorino romano, garlic, olive oil, toasted pine nuts) substituting some spinach for some basil and substituting walnuts for pine nuts. The spinach definitely didn't add anything (except for some vitamins and minerals) and overpowered even the strong pecorino romano. The walnuts made for a very pleasant sauce, but we like a lot more flavor and will be sticking with the pine nuts.

                Thanks to everyone for their help!

                The pesto odyssey continues...

                4 Replies
                1. re: zeprosnepsid

                  If you like your pesto on the light garlicky side, try boiling your garlic to get the intense flavor out before blending.

                  1. re: zeprosnepsid

                    You can boil the garlic, but I usually roast it for a few minutes in a hot frying pan. Just throw the cloves (still in their paper) until they start to brown and then they peel easily. I prefer the lighter, sweeter flavor in my pesto instead of the spiciness of raw garlic. I also toast the pine nuts, but that's another story!

                    1. re: nealhbeck

                      i know this is an old thread, but if anyone is lurking, i too screwed up my pesto and its soooo strong. how can i salvage it? aside from using it in very small amounts while cooking with it. should i buy more basil and make a larger batch? or is this futile and a waste. should this be a live and learn experience?

                      1. re: funkluvah

                        Do you think it is strong because of the garlic? then yes,I would make another batch without garlic (or less garlic) and mix the two together to soften it.