Ah, Basil! Where do I start my ode to this beautiful and versatile herb? This king of herbs has many uses across the world. Basil is native to India where it is known as tulsi and has many holy and medicinal uses. Other Asian variants are the Thai basil and Lemon basil, which are used in cooking. But my favourite is the Sweet Basil that is used extensively in Italian cuisine and which imparts a pungent yet sweet aroma to the piatti (dishes).
Many Italian dishes use fresh basil leaves to add colour and aroma, notably the classic Pizza Margherita, where basil denotes the green colour of the Italian flag. Basil can also be used to make Pesto that delicious sauce originating in Genoa in Northern Italy. Traditionally, pesto is made by grinding the ingredients in a mortar and pestle, but there is no law against using your food processor!
This recipe is adapted from the one on Jamie Oliver’s website. Usually, pine nuts are used to give the pesto that creamy consistency. However, you can use other nuts such as almonds, cashew nuts or walnuts. If you are using walnuts, go easy on the quantity else you will end up with a bitter pesto! I prefer to use almonds, which I soak in water for couple of hours beforehand. You can remove the skin if you wish, but I leave it on.
- 2 large handfuls of Sweet Basil leaves
- 1 small handful of Almonds
- About 50g Parmigiano cheese
- 1-2 cloves of Garlic
- Olive Oil
- Salt and Pepper
- First blitz the basil, garlic, salt and pepper in the food processor (or mortar and pestle).
- Add the almonds, half the parmigiano and some olive oil and blend again.
- Remove into a bowl and add rest of the cheese and stir.
- Add some more olive oil till the sauce has a smooth and creamy consistency.
- Adjust the seasonings as per your taste.
- This sauce goes well with most types of pasta; I usually use fusilli or spaghetti. When you are cooking the pasta, reserve some of the water to add to the sauce if it has become too dry. This way the sauce will coat the pasta well.
You can simply serve up the pasta with the pesto and some grated parmigiano and a sprig of basil on top. Or you can add olives, mushrooms, chicken pieces, cut up sausages, even prawns – as per your taste! Buon appetito!