HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


making pesto with a mortar and pestle-anyone do this?

So last night I tried out a batch of pesto in my new, beautiful granite mortar and pestle. It was delicious but there are still a few kinks to work out, mostly concerned with the order of ingredients. I added the garlic and salt first, then the pine nuts--pounding them smooth was a piece of cake. It was the basil that was a pain. I pounded for a long time and it never really got to the "puree" stage--the pieces were still on the big side for a pesto. I'm thinking that next time I will add the basil before the pine nuts--that way, maximum surface area will be exposed to the mortar and pestle, without the pine nut puree getting in the way. Also, I might try to chop up the basil a little more fine before actually adding it to the mortar. Does anyone have any tips? Is this the best order in which to add the ingredients? Are mortar and pestle pestos simply more "coarse" than food processor pestos? Any insight would be appreciated.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. The only question I can answer with some certainty is your last one. Yes, mortar and pestle pestos are more "coarse" and I believe that is supposed to be their charm, that they aren't a homogeneous paste.

    1. Did you see this Chow video?


      This video was discussed in a recent pesto thread, IIRC, and the reason for soaking the basil leaves to wash was obviously clear, but the chef's thoughts on why washing the basil first to remove chlorophyll so the flavor would not be so strong is unknown to me; no matter. He does indeed crush the pine nuts first and discusses how important the movement of pounding is. Watch his "pounding' (more of a grinding) technique, he rotates the pestle around in the mortar more the most part, especially with the basil.

      Regardless, the video produces a wonderfully smooth pesto with a gorgeous green color. I've never been able to quite get it to that silky texture by hand, but I have gotten much closer to the video chef's results than when I use a food processor. Hand pounded pesto can be much smoother that food processed pesto, with some heavily applied sweat equity. Keep trying. It's a labor of love.

      Edit: see ispe's thread link below, that is the thread I was referring to.

      5 Replies
      1. re: bushwickgirl

        I'll have to watch that video because my m&p efforts never even came close to something you could call silky, more like chunky.

        1. re: escondido123

          Yes, check it out. My feeling is this guy's been making pesto in an M & P since he was five or six.

          1. re: escondido123

            i think the method/secret to the chef in the video is to grind up the nuts first in the p&m for sometime until it starts forming a nut butter which is how it comes out so creamy. the light greeness also shows he's pounded up the leaves for along time too.

          2. re: bushwickgirl

            That is the best video -- I love this guy and everything that's "importante"!

            1. re: roxlet

              He was very adamant about the importante stuff.

          3. Yes, mortar and pestle. And after doing it this way I have come to learn that this is the ONLY way to do pesto.

            My previous discussion here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/715877

            9 Replies
            1. re: ipsedixit

              I read the discussion you linked, and watched the video. Thanks.

              Question: I noticed that some used a granite M&P, whereas the Chow video chef is marble. Are they equal?

              1. re: Rella

                From my experience, yes.

                The only difference between porous (granite) and nonporous (marble) mortar and pestle sets is maintenance. Both can give you equal results, the only variable being *you*.

                Good luck.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  A few days ago I thought I might try a mortar & pestle which I've had for a few decades.


                  I took one look and decided it would be just too darned hard to clean up with all those ribs, and I didn't want to soak it, thinking that what didn't come out of the ribs might contaminate; or if I used soap, how could the soap be rinsed out enough.

                  Has anyone used this type of M&P - I think there might be some drawbacks.

                  1. re: Rella

                    The link you provided show a ceramic mortar and pestle. Is that what you are using and asking about?

                    If so, then cleanup should be easy. A quick scrub with water and the mortar and pestle is good to go. This is because nonporous mortar and pestle sets are made from materials that are completely smooth and repel absorption like marble, vitrified ceramic.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Yes, it is the ceramic M&P. The huge amount of ribs are so close together, I guess to make it rough, It is extremely rough.

                      "ceramic with an unglazed interior,"
                      "ribbed for better grinding action"

                      1. re: Rella

                        Mm, sounds sorta, well, um, never mind. You can clean them just fine, "ribbed for better grinding action" and all. Sorry. Let me stop now. <facepalm smack>

                        Seriously, it''ll be fine. A little scrubbing and a good rinse should do it.

                        1. re: bushwickgirl

                          I bought it as a Japanese M&R, at the time I was 'into' Japanese 'cuisine.'
                          You know how that goes - one can never be well-enough equipped

                          1. re: Rella

                            Truly. It looks like a lovely M & R, actually, wish I had one like that, seriously. As an addition to the ones I have already, you know, to be well-enough equipped. ;-))

                            1. re: bushwickgirl

                              You inspired me to take a picture. I didn't realize that it was painted so carelessly - hmmm. I didn't take the picture of the pestle with it -- the same as on the amazon link.

            2. Is your granite M&P smooth? I am breaking in a molcajete, and wonder if I can use it to make pesto.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Jay F

                No, it's unfinished inside. I don't think a smooth one would work properly. I'm sure a molcajete would work fine for making pesto.

                1. re: Lady_Tenar

                  Well, I'm going to try it, and I'll let you know how I do.

              2. I remember seeing a video on the internet of an Italian cook making pesto in a mortar and pestle, and I was surprised by how completely smooth and silky he got it to come out. I don't make mine in a mortar and pestle, but my last batch had a similar texture. I chopped everything up in the food processor and then blended it in Vitamix. It comes out silky smooth and doesn't require much oil. But I promise myself to try the mortar and pestle method one of these days!

                1. Pesto is much better, in my opinion, when it has a coarse, pasty texture. The olive oil should run free. Pesto that looks like thick pureed green oil is all wrong.

                  With this in mind, a mortar and pestle is the ideal way to make pesto. But I think a food processor can do a good job too. While you have to be very careful not to process to a smooth texture, there's no reason not to use the food processor to chop up the basil, pine nuts, and garlic to a texture coarser than you'd like those ingredients. Then you can add those ingredients and grated parmesan to a mortar and grind away.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: sushigirlie

                    Sushigirlie, you say
                    While you have to be very careful not to process to a smooth texture...

                    I have not been able to process by food processor a smooth texture - not that I have been trying. My pesto usually is more on the order of tiny flakes of basil. I don't care to overprocess it. But then, I have never made a smooth, silky pesto, but preferring a more rustic type of pesto.

                    An aside: I often make pesto from all Italian parsley (or combined with a few leaves of basil) and I wonder how Italian parsley would hand-process by M&P to become silky and if the hand-processing would benefit the taste.

                    Just musing.

                    1. re: Rella

                      Rella, parsley pestos are quite different ffrom basil based pestos, so as long as you know your ingredients, you'll know your outcome flavor-wise .

                      I do m&p pesto on occasion with a central american purchased volcanic rock combo M&P.

                      I do basil first, then salt, then garlic, then nuts and finally oil. Then I add the Parm. cheese.

                      If over processed, the nuts do turn to butter which I find ruins the batch. Especially for food processor batches.That goes for pine nuts, cashews and walnuts. Depending upon what I have on the house or the flavor I am going after dictates the nut for my batches.
                      BTW-the one in the recipe. NOT the one behind the keyboard. LOL.

                      I;ve got a basil plant that is 1m+ or or about 3' 6" high these days. Damn thing won't stop growing.
                      Go figgure. :)

                      1. re: jjjrfoodie

                        Usually I have trouble keeping basil growing. This year I'm having no trouble, but my container-contained mint has died -- oh, well, mint is not one of my favorite herbs.

                        I've really stopped using pine nuts. I would favor Italian pine nuts, but I have not seen them but one time. I don't mind English walnuts as a substitute for the China pine nuts -- actually prefer them to Chinese pine nuts.

                        I have also 'almost' stopped using parm regg - a little too bitter anymore for me, but grana padano seems to work for me.

                      2. re: Rella

                        Yeah, I've never made a parsley pesto but I'd like to try it. I think next I want to try an arugula pesto, though. Yum!