Basil Pesto

Basil Pesto

Though pesto means “pounded” in Italian, the rush of modern life has taken the recipe out of the mortar and into the blender (or food processor) for most of us. This version, adapted from a Ligurian woman, Lidia Caveri, gently encourages (but does not require) a return to the mortar. The constant rap of the pestle will jostle the nuts, basil and garlic into an emulsified base. Add the oil and cheese to get an impossibly thick, creamy sauce that clings to pasta unlike any machine-made counterpart could. Though you might think otherwise, the pesto will come together before the pasta water has a chance to boil. And as a bonus, there'll be no blender to wash up afterward.
  • Total:
  • Serves: 1 person



  1. Step 1

    Set a large pot of water to boil over high heat.
  2. Step 2

    Use a mortar and pestle to pound and grind the pine nuts to a fine paste (no distinct pieces should be visible). Add the garlic, and pound until smooth and integrated.
  3. Step 3

    If the basil leaves are very large, run a knife through them once or twice to cut them down in size. Add basil to pine nuts along with a pinch of salt, which will help break down the leaves. Continue pounding and grinding until the basil breaks down completely (if your mortar is small, pound the basil in batches), about 7 minutes. Once the nuts and basil combine into a thick green paste, stir in Parmesan, pecorino and oil. Taste, and adjust salt as needed.
  4. Step 4

    Generously season water with salt. Cook pasta until al dente, then drain, reserving a cup of cooking water. (Tip: Heat your serving bowl by using it as a lid for pasta pot)
  5. Step 5

    Place cooked pasta in the serving bowl, and stir in pesto. Add splashes of cooking water and olive oil as needed to loosen the sauce and ensure the pasta is evenly coated. Garnish with Parmesan, and serve immediately.