Hand Made Pesto | Zeffirino Pesto

Zeffirino Pesto | Handmade Pesto

Hand made, home made pesto is the most exquisite of creations. Do try it.

I first made it long ago, when I took a cooking class with Bill Grainger of the famous Bills Restaurants in Sydney, and author of many Sydney-style cookbooks. He made pesto by hand in the class. At home, Bill didn’t keep a lot of gadgets in his kitchen and didn’t have a blender!! So at home he always made it by hand. A man after my own heart – Meditation in the kitchen through manual grinding. There is something about pesto that you make yourself, especially if you grow your own basil.

I recently came across this again, which reminded me of a conversation on Boxing day with Bill and Karen, friends of my brother, while eating Bill’s pesto. The recipe is enough to make you reach for the basil plant, and dig out the mortar and pestle. You can smell the basil even while reading the recipe…. and taste the pasta. I often leave out the walnuts.

This recipe is enough to make you reach for the basil plant, and bring the mortar and pestle out of the cupboard. You can smell the basil even while reading the recipe…. and taste the pasta.

You should check out our home made eggless pasta too.

Are you looking for pasta sauces? Try Tomato and Creme Fraiche Pasta Sauce, Pasta with a Cauliflower Sauce, Baked Tomato Pasta Sauce, and Pasta Sauce with Aubergine, Red Peppers and Tomato.

Use Broad Bean and Mint Puree as a pasta sauce too, by thinning it until a suitable consistency is reached.

You might also like our other Pesto recipes. All of our Pasta Sauce recipes are here. Or you might like to browse our Italian recipes. Alternatively, take some time to check out our easy Mid Summer recipes.

Feel free to browse other recipes from our Retro Recipes series – vegetarian recipes from our first blog from 1995 – 2006.

Zeffirino Pesto - made by hand

Pesto and Zeffirino

Zeffirino was a chef and restaurant owner in Genoa, and both he and the restaurant that carries his name are famous for pesto. This recipe includes walnuts – some reports insist Zeffirino never used nuts, but others clearly include them. It is possible that he did as the inclusion of walnut’s rich earthy taste is indeed an old, perhaps ancient, Italian tradition.

“When we prepare pesto alla genovese with the classic mortar and pestle, we subject the instrument to the product while respecting the right proportions of the ingredients because we are the ones to decide the proportions of the doses. While when using a mixer, in order to succeed in cutting the basil we have to add more oil than otherwise necessary, thus altering the doses and in such manner we subject the product to the instrument.” — Chef Enrico Tournier

Pesto is a speciality of Liguria in North Western Italy, but is made widely throughout the country. In Southern Italy, a red pesto is made from sun-dried tomatoes, chillies, olive oil, parmesan cheese and basil. Because of the extra acidity, the pesto is much more stable against oxidation. The precursor of pesto from the Middle Ages was made primarily from pounded walnuts and garlic, with the inclusion of perhaps a leaf or two of basil or other herbs. Our recognisable pesto didn’t appear until the 19th Century, and, still heavy with garlic, was considered for some time a working class dish.

The recipe for pesto can be generalised to other herbs, for example, chervil and lemon balm make quite extravagant pesti. Coriander Pesto is good. Some may say that such recipes are not pesto, but keep in mind that parsley and marjoram have been used in place of basil for a long time in Italy. In Germany, a Green Sauce is made in similar fashion to pesto from a mixture of 7 herbs.

There is a brilliant article on the history of pesto – it’s a great read.

Zeffirino Pesto | Handmade Pesto

Hand Made Pesto | Zeffirino Pesto

This pesto is perfect as a pasta sauce and as a bruschetta topping.

The recipe may be scaled for smaller amounts.

3 cups tightly packed basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
3 Tblspn pine nuts
1 Tblspn walnuts
70 g parmesan
15 g mature Sardinian sheep’s cheese (use a good pecorino)
100 ml good extra virgin olive oil

The Zeffirino Pesto insists on use of the mortar and pestle, and on basil with the smallest leaves you can find, to ensure pesto made in heaven.

Place 3 tightly packed cups of basil leaves, well rinsed and drained but never wrung out, into a large mortar, and grind to a paste with enough salt to give the pestle a good grip (about 1 tspn). Add 4 cloves garlic roughly chopped, 3 Tblspn pine nuts and 1 Tblspn walnuts and continue to grind with the pestle until the ingredients are pulverised.

When the mixture is well ground, and still using the pestle, add 70g grated parmesan and 15 g of a mature Sardinian sheep’s cheese. (The sheep’s cheese is for piquancy, but the parmesan alone is more typical. Use only parmesan if you prefer.)

Lastly, stir in with the pestle about 100 ml excellent virgin olive oil or enough to make the pesto light green. If the sauce is too dense, thin with some water taken from the pot while the pasta is boiling.

To serve, place the sauce in the base of a serving bowl, add the drained pasta and stir the pesto through before serving immediately.


recipe notes and alternatives
A dash of cloves may be added to improve the flavour of basil that has not been grown in the hottest of suns.

Pesto can be made in bulk and frozen.

Pesto is very susceptible to oxidation – exposed to air it browns rapidly, and the flavour is greatly reduced. It is especially a problem if the basil has been pureed to much (hence a preference for handmade rather than blender-made) or if the pesto has been frozen and rethawed. There is no easy way to reduce this, so the best way to make it immediately before consuming, and keep its container closed as much as possible.




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