How To Cook With Pesto And The Mistakes To Avoid


It’s easy to see why pesto is such a popular ingredient in Italian cuisine, especially for pasta dishes. Fresh herbs offer a taste of spring, garlic adds a little pep, nuts provide some crunch, and everything is swimming in oil and cheese. Just a few basic elements provide a whole lot of love.

But while pesto’s beauty may lie in its simplicity, a truly delicious pesto requires technique, restraint, and quality ingredients. There are a lot of things that can go wrong in such a straightforward process, and once you get the hang of it, a whole world beyond the traditional basil pesto alla Genovese is waiting for you to explore. If your sauce is bland and lacking in the qualities that make the combination so delicious, chances are you’re committing a pesto sin.

Below are the top mistakes people tend to make when cooking with pesto (including actually cooking it). Read on to ensure you’re never left with a dull mushy mess again. Go ahead, make your nonna proud.

Not putting in elbow grease

The word pesto refers not to a specific set of ingredients, but rather to a preparation method: Pestare means to pound in Italian. The ingredients are pulverized to create a coarse paste, which is then slightly emulsified with oil, according to Delicious Italy. So how do we achieve this consistency? You can use a food processor or blender, sure, but a mortar and pestle is the most traditional way. And sure enough, this method came out on top in Food52’s extensive trials, beating all electric appliances and two types of knives.

The optimal mortar and pestle pesto, as explained to Food52 by the Pesto World Championship finalist Maurizio Valle, begins by crushing garlic and salt into a paste. Basil, pine nuts, and cheese follow, and finally, olive oil is stirred in with a spoon. Rather than beating the pestle against the mortar in an up-and-down motion, it’s best to swirl the pestle around the rim while applying pressure, crushing the ingredients between the two. Your arm might get sore, but it’s definitely worth it for the resulting smooth consistency.


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