Any proper foodie loves pesto. It’s bright and rich. It can dress a salad or pasta, equally well. It makes a rockin’ omelette. But, I’ve noticed that my kids steer clear. Why, oh why? I have a sneaking suspicious it’s the garlic. So, today we’re making pesto on their terms.
Laying a big pile of basil on the counter, I think of a recent article in the New York Times, “Breeding the Nutrition Out of Food”. Humans have systematically bred plants to be larger, sweeter, less bitter and more delicious. The problem is, many of these fruits and vegetables have a fraction of the nutrients they used to convey to us. Herbs are a big exception, remaining flavorful and packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and antimicrobial oils. So I have resolved to bring herbs into the center of our meals. Pesto is a great start.
There are a few ways to make pesto and the gold standard is crushing the leaves, pine nuts and Parmesan together using mortar and pestle. I have heard it said that a food processor cutting olive oil makes it more bitter. With young children at the helm, it’s a tradeoff and we have done both.
The Pros of Using Mortar and Pestle
- There are no sharp blades – less supervision
- The resulting pesto is a little sweeter
- It’s a great workout for high energy toddlers
- Smashing every part puts the kids in charge and they can easily taste along the way
The Pros of Using A Food Processor
- It’s easy to make a lot of pesto.
- The process is quick and exciting.
- The result is smoother
Mingus has a particular affection for high speed power tools (please, let this phase pass! I am imagining adult-William with a shed full of motorcycles and chainsaws.)
“Remember no fingers in the mixer.”
“Of course. [he gives me that look, like, ‘I know!’] How do I poke the leaves down?”
“Look in the tool drawer and see what you find.”
Mingus rummages around and picks out a measuring cup.
“What about using this?”
“Um, give it a try.”
He jams the cup into the pile of leaves and discovers the center post in the mixer is in the way. Undeterred, he finds a whisk and greater success.
Glub, glub, glub. Mingus pours olive oil into the mixer.
Shake, shake, thump. The pine nuts go inside, too. I sprinkle in some salt.
“Mommy, would you plug in the mixer?”
A moment later, Vrrrrrrrrr! We give it a whirl.
Mingus selects a spoon and dunks it into the bowl to drag out a sample.
“Mommy, it doesn’t taste very good.”
“Really? Pesto is delicious.”
“I think it needs something else.”
“Hmmm. Chocolate? Maybe lemon zest. Or cheese.”
He is totally right. We forgot the Parmesan! Another whirl in the mixer fixes it. We add a little more olive oil to get the right texture.
Mingus doesn’t wait to start eating. He plants himself on the counter, next to our window boxes. Mostly, we grow herbs, but there is a swath of arugula too (another plant that still packs a great nutrient punch). He plucks leaf after leaf, dipping and munching.
After a while, he realizes that nearly the whole patch has passed into his stomach.
“Mommy, we need more leaves.”
I open the fridge and pass him a tray of spinach. The munch-fest continues. Pesto, minus the garlic, is a huge hit. He’s “ruined” his dinner eating leaves.
- Approximately 2 Cups of Fresh Basil
- ½ Cup Olive Oil
- ½ Cup Pine Nuts
- ½ Cup Parmesan
- Salt to Taste
- Start out by ripping the basil leaves off of their stalks.
- Carefully poke the leaves inside a food processor
- Pour in an unmeasured ½ cup of olive oil. There’s no need to use the fancy stuff. Then add the pine nuts and parmesan. Don’t worry about exact measurements. And then sprinkle a dash of salt in too.
- Run the food processor until the pesto is smooth, about 30 seconds.
- Open the lid, stick in a spoon and taste what you’ve got. If the result is too runny, add more pine nuts. If the result is too thick, add more olive oil. Then whirr it again.