Pesto Sauce (mortar & pestle version)

I previously posted my recipe for pesto that called for using a food processor. It is notable for its very spicy taste, which, it seems is not the intent of the dish. Recently I was reading Clifford A. Wright's "A Mediterranean Feast" and in it he discusses this trait of the herb in his recipe for Pesto alla Genovese.

So, since my basil plant has recovered nicely and is producing the usual overabundance of leaves, I dug my mortar and pestle out of storage and gave it a try. The difference is simply amazing. It's a rich creamy sauce when made this way with almost no bite to it whatsoever. If you have the equipment and the time, I highly recommend it.

  • 60 - 70 fresh basil leaves, washed and completely dried.
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tbs pine nuts
  • 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup extra version olive oil
  • freshly ground pepper


Toast the pine nuts by placing them in a saute pan over a medium flame. Stir as the nuts begin to brown and remove before they turn dark brown.

Place the garlic and the salt in the mortar and crush until forms a paste. Add half the pine nuts and do the same. Add basil in small bunches working them gently but firmly into a mush. About halfway through, add the rest of the pine nuts. When it becomes roughly uniform begin gently pounding the mush, adding the cheese a tablespoon at a time every minute or so. Stop when the mixture is the consistency of a paste, not a liquid.

Scrape the pesto into a large bowl and add the olive oil and pepper, slowly working it uniformly into paste.

The pesto can be placed in a jar with a layer of olive oil on it and refrigerated.

To use simply prepare a pasta and then deposit in a bowl with a few tablespoons of the pesto. Stir well until it uniformly covers the pasta, using pasta water if needed.