A new book, from Sacla’, celebrates 150 years of this Italian culinary favourite.
Pesto. Everyone has a jar in the cupboard or a half-eaten one in the fridge. Chances are it’s made by Sacla’ and it’s usually spooned into a bowl of pasta for a quick ‘last minute’ midweek meal. Sacla’ are celebrating 150 years since the first recorded mention of this Italian staple in a recipe, with a new book that aims to show us how versatile pesto can be in our everyday cooking.
The paperback book,‘The Big Book of Pesto’, offers 70 recipes for using pesto, ranging from snacks such as’pesto hummus’ to midweek meals such as’chicken with a parmesan and pesto crust’. Its authors include celebrity chefs Theo Randall, Phil Vickery and 2010 Masterchef winner Dhruv Baker. Each recipe has a full-page colour photograph and they are all are short and seem fairly easy to prepare with a majority of them having a’student cookbook’ feel.
I tried out the’courgette, pea and pesto frittata’ recipe, which was tasty and very simple to follow. The book does make you consider other ways of introducing pesto into cooking, either as the main flavour or simply a form of seasoning, other than the overused default of pasta sauce. I do however feel that the £14.99 price tag seems fairly steep given the quality of the recipes and size of the book. It begins with a brief introduction about the history of Sacla’. However there is no reference to the history of pesto itself which seems slightly odd considering this book is designed to be celebrating 150 years of it.
The book launch celebrations were marked with the creation of a specially commissioned cocktail,’The Pestini’ which features the key pesto components of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese. Designed by barman Daniele Pagnoni of Theo Randall at the Intercontinental it is made by blending gin, basil, Limoncello and a specially made pine nut syrup. It is served with an accompanying crunchy Parmesan and basil crisp to complete the pesto flavour.
A jar of pesto is one of the ultimate convenience foods. However making your own version takes minutes and tastes infinitely better than the pre-made stuff.
My classic basil pesto recipe
(makes enough for pasta sauce for two)
· 50g basil leaves
· 25g toasted pine nuts (toasting them in a dry pan for a few minutes until golden adds extra flavour)
· 25g grated Parmesan cheese
· 1 small garlic clove
· A few grinds of black pepper (no salt needed due to the Parmesan)
· 50ml extra virgin olive oil (the better the oil, the richer the taste of the pesto)
To make, simply combine all of the ingredients except for the oil (either in a traditional mortar and pestle or using a hand blender) to make a paste. Then add the oil gradually, while mixing with the pestle or hand blender, to emulsify the mixture and form the pesto.
You can very easily mix this basic recipe up by using different herbs such as coriander, mint or parsley or green peppery leaves such as rocket and spinach.