The Best Pesto

Using a mortar and pestle results in the best pesto. [Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

This pesto sauce, through rounds and rounds of testing, has been honed to the perfect ratio, ingredients, and method. And while a mortar and pestle is a bit of work, the superior sauce it produces compared to a food processor can't be argued. This is the true, best pesto. Still, if you want to use a food processor, you will end up with a very good pesto using this ratio of ingredients (just pulse the garlic, salt, and pine nuts together first, then add the cheese and follow with the basil; stir in the oil).

Why this recipe works:

  • Using a mortar and pestle creates a luxurious sauce with a rich, deep flavor and beautiful, silky texture that is superior to what a food processor will create.
  • Pecorino Fiore Sardo is a slightly milder sheeps milk cheese, and creates a more balanced, less harsh pesto sauce.
  • Mild olive oil creates a more balanced, less aggressively spicy sauce.

Note: If you can't find Pecorino Fiore Sardo, you can use Pecorino Romano instead, but increase the Parmigiano-Reggiano to a full 3 tablespoons and cut the Pecorino to 2 tablespoons in that case. To serve this pesto on pasta, too the sauce with the drained noodles off the heat, adding a little reserved pasta-cooking water to help bind it all together. Adding pieces of cooked new potato and green beans to the pasta is a traditional Ligurian touch.

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The Best Pesto

About This Recipe

Yield:Makes enough for 4 servings
Special equipment:Mortar and pestle
This recipe appears in: How to Make the Best Pesto

Ingredients

  • 4 medium cloves garlic
  • Generous pinch coarse sea salt
  • 3 ounces basil leaves (from about a 4-ounce bunch)
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons (1 ounce) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons (1 ounce) Pecorino Fiore Sardo (see note above)
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons mildly flavored extra-virgin olive oil

Procedures

  1. 1

    In a mortar and pestle, combine garlic and sea salt and grind to a paste.

  2. 2

    Add basil leaves a handful at a time and grind against the walls of the mortar; it's easier to use a circular grinding motion than to try to pound the leaves with the pestle. Continue until all basil leaves have been crushed to fine bits and have released their green liquid.

  3. 3

    Add pine nuts and gently crush with pestle, then work into a paste with basil and garlic.

  4. 4

    Add both cheeses and continue to use the pestle to grind into a paste.

  5. 5

    Slowly drizzle in olive oil, working it into the pesto with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Pesto can be served with pasta right away, or transferred to a jar or container, covered with a small layer of olive oil, sealed, and refrigerated overnight.

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