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Jul 14, 2014 11:58 AM

Pesto experts, a lil help please?

So I have a nice big bunch of basil and I'd like to make pesto. I have pine nuts. I admittedly only have the parm that comes in a jar for sprinkling but I'd like to make do. I have grape seed oil. I'd like to make pesto but whenever I've tried in the past it comes out as this thick leafy mash or just some soupy thing with green bits which lack the body one normally sees in pesto. I don't have a food processor. Closest I've got is one of those chopper attachments for my immersion blender. Any pesto making tips for me or lower calorie and easier to make alternatives?

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  1. my two cents - and i'm sure people will disagree.

    first of all, remove the basil leaves and wash them. Dry ALL of them thoroughly [you don't want excess water in here. Second, toast the pignoli. Third. Don't add that cheese from the green jar. Wait until you're able to get something decent and add it later. For some reason, long-term storage with the cheese just makes the pesto turn black faster. I add cheese as I go.

    so, let's go with just basil, garlic, and olive oil [never used grapeseed oil in this]. I normally make my pesto quite thick - takes up less storage room and i can adjust the thickness to whatever i need at the time.. I mix in additional olive oil as i use it. And top off the jar with a layer of oilve oil.

    good luck!

    1 Reply
    1. re: jiffypop

      I typically use *way* less oil than classic recipes such as Hazan's. I freeze it without cheese and add the cheese later (agree on using good cheese; romano is cheaper than parm and I can't tell the difference in pesto). So OP, you have one of those mini food processors that you use the immersion blender stick on? I have one of those, and that should work fine, though you can't make very much at one time in those.

    2. The secret to great pesto is to pack your measuring cup TIGHTLY with basil. If your recipe says 2 cups, you need to hold the basil down and keep packing the cup until you can't possibly get any more inside.

      I know, sounds weird, but trust me, it works.

      If you don't have a food processor, remember that for centuries pesto (the Italian word for "pounded") was made in a mortar with a pestle. I would not use the chopper but the immersion blender.

      You really do need olive oil to get the fullness of flavor you will be expecting. Chop your garlic first, then add the basil.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ChefJune

        Ah maybe thats it. I'm measuring them wrong. I stuff it a bit into the cup but its still kinda loose in there usually. I don't have a mortar and pestle either :) but I'll give it a try with the blender and some olive oil.

      2. I ALWAYS blanch the basil and then rinse with cold water (keeps it green). I also use olive oil.

        4 Replies
        1. re: foodslut

          Blanching, no way. The trick to keeping basil green is to remove all stems, just leaves.

          1. re: treb

            I add a good amount of parsley to keep the color. Always keep a layer of olive oil on top to prevent oxidation, which is what causes the darkening, just like with avocados.

            1. re: zeldaz51

              I generally don't bother with the layer of oil, since in my experience, while it does darken, it is only the very top layer, and when I use it, I just stir it up at the last minute and the result is still very green.

            2. re: treb

              Ive worked with credible recipes that call for blanching - it works just fine, the water runs off.

              Usually freeze our pesto (no cheese included)- putting a layer of plastic wrap on top of the paste helps prevent iciness and seals it a bit without adding the olive oil layer.

          2. Don't even think of using anything but olive oil (preferably Ligurian, but nobody's perfect). You want a combination of pecorino and parmigiano, freshly grated or close enough to pass. Pre-packaged is probably disgusting but I don't know what you mean by green jar. Green can (Kraft) is definitely to be tossed, not for pesto. Or for anything. If you have no food processor and no blender, use a mortar and pestle. Don't toast the pinoli.

            11 Replies
            1. re: mbfant

              Every pesto recipe I've ever read called for toasted pine nuts to bring out their nuttiness. Why do recommend against it?

              1. re: grampart

                My experience is the opposite. I've never seen a recipe that calls for toasting. Exhibit a: Hazan:

                1. re: DGresh

                  You obviously haven't looked at very many recipes.

                  1. re: grampart

                    Not true. I have looked at many. Toasting the pine nuts destroys their creaminess.
                    I like them raw, some people like them toasted. It is a matter of preference.
                    I never have blanched the leaves and would not.

                    1. re: magiesmom

                      One chef's opinion.

                      "You may think it's nice to toast the pine nuts until they're coloured, to give them a nutty taste, but the really good pestos I've tasted in Italy just have them very lightly toasted, to give a creaminess rather than a nuttiness."


                      1. re: grampart

                        The traditional Genoese recipe does NOT toast the pine nuts.

                    2. re: grampart

                      <You obviously haven't looked at very many recipes.>
                      It doesn't take many recipes if you look for an authentic one -- such as Marcella Hazan's.

                      1. re: ChefJune

                        I stand corrected, but I still believe one will find more recipes calling for toasted than not.

                        1. re: grampart

                          does that mean they're "better" to you?

                        2. re: ChefJune

                          Marcella's recipe isn't authentic either. She uses butter. Her recipe is good, but not traditional. She probably felt the butter compensated for the lack of decent ingredients. According to the genovesi, the basil must be the local variety, the pine nuts from the Mediterranean (not Chinese, for example), the cheeses parmigiano-reggiano and pecorino sardo, the garlic sweet, and the olive oil preferably from Liguria.
                          All else is improvisation.

                          1. re: mbfant

                            true-- while I use her recipe, I never add the butter.

                2. The green can is similar to sawdust. If you have a Trader Joe's nearby, you can get better parmesan than that, but still not spend a fortune.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: sandylc

                    I was just hoping to use it up and not have to hit the store but I get your point...

                    1. re: foxspirit

                      The sawdust in those green cans -- well, I don't want to know what's really in them. I just know that years ago we did a taste test.... Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano vs that apcray. Never bought the green can again.

                      There are some very good domestic Parmesans (Bel Gioioso makes one) but they are NOT Parmigiano.