Mortar-and-pestle Pesto

As for almost all my Italian food love stories, this one started when I visited the country.

It wasn’t in some fancy restaurant ; neither was it in metropolitan Italy, but in Sardinia. With my companion, we wanted to go to the beach, and it was nearing noon. We fetched, in a small nearby supermarket, a few items to make a tomato, mozzarella and pesto sandwich -I might post it some day, because this simple sandwich is beautiful.

As we strolled through the aisles of the supermarket, I noticed some fresh, refrigerated pesto ! This isn’t commonly available in French supermarkets ; we only get pesto from sterilized glass jars. I bought it with excitement -I love shopping for food in foreign supermarkets, as it gives me truer sense of what the locals eat.

I tried it before spreading it on the sandwich. Damn it !! The difference with our usual French ready-made pesto was astounding. The basil flavour was so much fresher ; you could also taste the delicious olive oil flavour, and the garlic.

And it wasn’t even the real deal, as it was still ready-made. Imagine the flavour when freshly handmade, using the best ingredients you can procure.

There was no turning back from this, and my companion gifted me a mortar and pestle for my next birthday. To this day, I make my pesto from scratch.

I hope you’ll make yours too.

Mortar-and-pestle Pesto – Recipe

Ingredients, process – Advice & key points

  • Olive oil : As this ingredient is possibly the most important in this recipe, I strongly recommend using a good quality olive oil.
  • Basil : Try to make this recipe in summer, as off-season basil is just not tasty.
  • Why use a mortar and pestle, you might wonder, and not a blender ? The answer is twofold :
    • if using a hand mixer or blender, the blades will heat up the basil, which makes it lose some of its flavour ;
    • crushing and grinding frees more flavour than simply cutting. Try it with a piece of garlic if you wish ; you will taste a clear difference between minced garlic and crushed garlic.

Using your pesto – Pieces of advice

  • Very useful trick : Make a batch of pesto, then freeze your leftovers easily ! You just have to use an ice cube tray ; I usually use my pesto for a 2-persons recipe, then make around 6 to 8 pesto cubes that I put in the freezer. 2 cubes represent a good amount per person.

This way, I can have tasty pesto year-round.

  • How to use your pesto :
    • With pasta :
      • Important : Do not heat your pesto ! It will lose its flavour.
      • When your pasta is cooked, turn off the heat. Set aside a small amount of pasta water.
      • Drain, then add back your pasta to your pot. Add your pesto (about 1 heaped tablespoon per person). Add a bit of pasta water, and emulsify by stirring quickly.
      • Please salt your pasta water appropriately ! 10g of salt/liter is usually recommended.
    • In sandwiches :
      • My favourite pesto sandwiches are :
        • Mozzarella, Tomato and Pesto (vegetarian) ;
        • Arugula, Mozzarella, Tomato, Parma ham, Pesto.

Now come and cook !

Difficulty: Beginner Prep Time 15 min Total Time 15 mins
Servings: 6
Best Season: Summer


Genovese pesto is as fresh as it is decadent. This beauty is essentially olive oil and parmigiano -freshened up by lots of basil, and a bit of garlic. Simple, ready within 15mn and absolutely gorgeous. 



  1. Pound it !

    Place your garlic in your mortar and pestle, along with a generous pinch of salt.

    Crush it until it becomes paste-like (around 2mn). 

    Add your basil progressively, one or two large handfuls at a time (~ 3 additions). Pound it and crush it, taking your time to do so (at least 5mn).

    Add your pine nuts, and crush them (~1mn).

    Add your grated cheese and stir it in progressively, in 2 or 3 handfuls (~1mn).  

    Pour your olive oil slowly at the beginnning, so as to emulsify the sauce. After 2 or 3 tbsp, you can add larger quantities at a time.

    Taste and adjust for salt if needed. 

    Et voilà !! You're done ! 

Keywords: home made, pesto, genovese, mortar and pestle, basil, olive oil, garlic

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