Homemade basil pesto with the Pesto Princess

The princess herself, Kathleen Quillinan shows you how it’s done

Meet the Pesto Princess, Kathleen Quillinan, known for delicious pestos in a variety of flavours. Her favourite cookbook author is Marcella Hazan – an Italian lady that became well known for her book 'The Classic Italian Cookbook' and it’s from this book from where she draws her inspiration. Antonia Heil and Desmond Louw visited the Pesto Princess’s kitchen to see how she makes what she does best: pesto.

Basil pesto – made in a blender

100g (3 1/2 oz) fresh basil leaves (see note below) 
50g (1 3/4 oz) freshly grated Parmesan cheese
8 tablespoons olive oil**
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano pecorino cheese
25g (1oz) pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed with a heavy knife-handle and peeled
40g (1 1/2 oz) butter, softened to room temperature*
Enough for six servings of pasta

1. Place the basil, olive oil, pine nuts (or other nuts), garlic cloves and salt in the blender and mix at high speed. Stop from time to time and scrape the ingredients down towards the bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

2. When the ingredients are evenly blended, pour into another bowl and beat in the two grated cheeses by hand. (This is not much work, and it results in a more interesting texture and better flavour.)When the cheese has been evenly incorporated into the other ingredients, beat in the softened butter.

3. Before spooning the pesto over pasta, add to it a tablespoon or so of the hot water in which the pasta has boiled.

NOTE: Be gentle when measuring the basil, so as not to crush it. This will discolour it and waste the first, fresh drops of the juice.

* For a dairy-free, low-fat option, you can omit the butter, and you will still have a delicious pesto. You could add a splash of extra olive oil if you like.

** If the pesto is too thick, add a little more olive oil.

What can I do with pesto?
This list is by no means complete, but it will inspire you to get creative with your own, homemade pesto.

1. Pesto, with your favourite pasta, is a complete meal in a jar. It is a rich and concentrated sauce, so remember to dilute the pesto with a tablespoon of the water in which you are boiling the pasta and a glug of olive oil if you like, before tossing it into the piping hot pasta. Season with salt, and a grind or two of pepper.

2. Pesto makes a great spread for sandwiches, ciabatta rolls and bruschetta (Italian open toasts). Good fillings would be mozzarella cheese, goat’s cheese, or a simple cheddar. Chicken and cured meats also enjoy a bit of pesto.

3. Pesto and tomatoes are a match made in heaven. Their flavours and colours are truly complementary. Make a Caprese Salad, by layering tomato and mozzarella slices alternately on a pretty plate. Drizzle with pesto which has been thinned with olive oil, and decorate with a few sprigs of basil, then dot with balsamic vinegar. Grind pepper over at the end, and serve immediately as a starter with ciabatta.

4. Pesto can be added to mayonnaise and used in sandwiches, or served with a piece of grilled fish on the side.

5. For a great spread, mash some pesto into cream cheese. Serve with crackers when friends pop over for drinks.

6. Pesto is great on the breakfast menu—since it does such great things for eggs! Decorate fried eggs with a swirl of pesto or stir a dollop into scrambled eggs, omelettes and quiches.

7. Bake pesto into savoury muffins and breads.

8. When you next make mashed potatoes, add pesto instead of the butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. This makes great toddler food.

9. Basil Pesto makes a great sauce for steak! Grill steak just the way you like it, with only oil and salt. At the last minute, paint liberally with pesto and enjoy. Equally good with grilled chicken and fish.

10. Make up exciting pasta dishes of your own: roast veggies, tagliatelle and pesto; chicken strips, Pesto Princess Thai pesto and a tablespoon of cream; seafood mix of your choice, any pesto flavour, fresh herbs to deorate; baby potatoes, green beans and pesto; ricotta, pesto and baby tomatoes.

11. Add a dollop of pesto to any basic salad dressing, for a fantastic explosion of flavour on those greens.

12. Dress hot vegetables like green beans, or courgettes in pesto, instead of butter.

13. As winter approaches, a spoonful of pesto in a bowl of soup takes it to new heights.

14. All those leftovers in the fridge can often combine to make a surprising dish, pulled together with fresh pesto, and a bit of pasta, or rice.

by Antonia Heil

Now that you’ve made your own, read the story behind the Pesto Princess fairytale.

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