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My Mortar and Pestle Went on Strike!

I recently bought a large granite mortar and pestle to add to my collection so I could make pesto. The other two are just too small and I was tired of using the baby food maker since we don't have a processor.

Today I attempted pesto and I couldn't get the darn basil leaves to grind down into a paste. They just stayed whole and looked super wilted. I kept going, adding each of the ingredients hoping there would be a magic step!

Yep, I ended up with wilted basil float in olive oil. It was the saddest excuse for a pesto I've ever seen! Luckily everyone in my family have a stomach virus and wouldn't have been able to eat it anyway. I'd have been super embarrassed the serve it up!

Any idea where I went wrong?

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  1. Did you add coarse salt to the leaves? That might have helped with the emulsification. I've never had great success making pesto by hand though.

    1 Reply
    1. re: coll

      I do that when I grind garlic to a paste with the side of my chef's knife. The abrasive salt works like a charm!

      1. I have been making pesto in a M&P for years and much prefer the texture and flavor over using the FP as I used to, plus there's something much more satisfying about using it. I have never had this problem so will outline my method. I keep to the traditional basil, pine nuts, parmesan or hard pecorino (or ideally a mix), garlic, EVOO and S&P.

        I start off grinding (pestling?) the chopped garlic and pine nuts, then add the basil (larger stems removed and leaves roughly torn up) and enough EVOO to just moisten the mix. Then I pestle as long as it takes to produce a rough but well mixed texture adding EVOO as necessary, it does take quite a few minutes to break down the basil leaves. I then add the cheese ready grated (a little shortcut this) and then more EVOO to get to the liquidity I want, finally I season it. Hope this helps, do keep trying, its worth it!

        2 Replies
        1. re: andrewtree

          I too use a M&P and do not like the texture you get with a food processor.
          I usually strat with the basil and then the pine nuts, then garlic, then cheese (pecorino), EVOO. salt and peppet to tast at the end.

          Sounds like the surface of granite M&P might be to smooth.

          1. re: Infomaniac

            I'm sure a rougher surface mortar would be quicker but mine is porcelain and very smooth and I can get that to work.

        2. Could it be the interior surface of your new granite M&P is simply too smooth? Ours is a traditional stone (ulekan) with a slightly coarse grain. We've put tons of basil from our garden through it his summer; the leaves start to break down within seconds.

          1. tear the leaves up, and don;t add too many at a time. a little salt as an abrasive helps.

            1. I usually give the basil a rough chop before throwing it into the mortar. The order in which I add ingredients: garlic, salt, basil, olive oil, pinenuts, and cheese.

              1. a also do not usually add the oil, or the cheese usually, in the mortar, but after

                1. Thanks for all the suggestions! I bought more basil today to give it a second try. I realized my probably was the salt. I didn't use course salt the first go round, but sea salt from a grinder. It really made all the difference!