Al Dente: Pesto is the Besto

Let’s start with a song.


Let’s face it everyone, the apocalypse is off the cards. Remember the millennium bug? Planes falling from the sky? Nuclear missiles firing at random? The entire communications network dropping? Dogs and cats, living together, anarchy on the streets? Remember all that?

Okay, what about 2012? What about the Yellowstone mega volcano erupting and breaking America in half? Limited nuclear exchanges in the Middle East? Super Bird Flu? The UFO death gods folding down from dimension 9 and landing on the White House lawn amidst swathes of disclosure nuts who were just happy to help?

Don’t remember that?

Any of it?

Of course not.


Unless this is the Matrix in which case thank you very much Lawrence Fishburne but you can sod off. I don’t suit chunky knitwear, don’t like caves and would much prefer my steak made of 0s and 1s to your ‘long chain hydrocarbons’ thank you oh so very much.

We, including, I hope, Lawrence Fishburne himself, live in a world which hasn’t ended. In fact it’s even more profound that that, we are now past the furthest point of calculated time on the Mayan calendar. We’re officially out in the deep blue sky, all by ourselves, making a future which is completely free of any imagined sword of Damocles, or Nostradamus claiming that because a guy did a thing with a beard and a sausage, the world will end on April Umpty fifth.
The world isn’t ending. Sizable portions of it are shot to hell but it isn’t ending. This not only means we officially have no excuses anymore but also that there is now time to ponder the big, important questions in life. And surely there can be no question larger, no question more filled with import in these days of miracle and wonder than this:

Who’s pesto is the besto?

Pesto is one of my favorite foods, and not just because it has a fantastic name that sounds a little like something a magician with a cold would use as his magic word. Pesto, done right, is one of the most delicious things on the planet for me; a taste that hovers between cheesy, salty and nutty and is made entirely of PUT IT IN MY FACE NOW. The fact there are several varieties is a source of massive relief to me because whilst I know I would never get bored of eating it, I would eventually become the same colour AS it. Plus, pesto rosso, as well as sounding a little like a particularly great Studio Ghibli movie, is utterly delicious when spread on aubergine strips and baked. Seriously, that, salad potatoes, steamed carrots, cup of tea (Because much like the rum is always gone, it is always time for tea),
So, pesto as the Bisto kids once got fired for saying. The recipe and technique I’m using is of course one of St Jamie of Oliver’s own (And a special thanks to my sister in the faith, Caro Hewitt, for formally introducing me to the church of Jamie. We lug in his name.). This is for two reasons, firstly because Jamie Oliver recipes tend to be equal parts enthusiasm, ease of construction and BLOODY coriander, and secondly because the main meal for today is also a St Jamie one and, well…I pretty much ignore it. But before that, pesto! Victor, the usual suspects please!

So we’re looking at:
-Tomato soup
-Volau…Volax…Pastry cases
-Olive oil
-Pine nuts
-I have no bloody clue

Seriously, if you can tell me what this is then PLEASE do. It was the only fresh herb not labelled at the supermarket, it was in the sort of spot Basil would be in, it looks a little bit basil-y and it smells about right. It just seems…not quite right. Like somehow it’s Basil from the mirror universe in Fringe, or perhaps it’s Basil’s evil brother Klaus…Basil.
Anyway, the first stage is magnificently simple. You rip the leaves off Klaus Basil and drop them in the food processor. Have I talked about the food processor yet? It’s BRILLIANT. My parents got it for us because they saw I was cooking much more and wanted to introduce me to the concept of being able to chop large things with something other than a saw. So firstly, Mum and Dad, thank you so much, it’s brilliant. And secondly, seeing as you’re here, is the squash done yet?

Didn’t think so.

So, rip and rend and tear Klaus Basil and drop his still twitching leaves into the blender.

Then? DESTROY HIM. This will not be subtle or particularly fast, so don’t be afraid to whiz him around in there for a good couple of minutes. If, like me, you ended up with some stems in there anyway, then you can either keep going until they’re thrashed into tiny tiny pieces or, TURN THE FOOD PROCESSOR OFF, OPEN THE LID AND REMOVE THEM. That’s…


Look I know you’re all cool, enlightened, 21st century people, I know you’re not going to stick your fingers in a still whirring food processor and suddenly, and loudly, wonder why you’re now making PestAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAOHJESUSTURNITOFF! Besides, the thing will shut down once the lid is opened, chances are BUT, for me, please, make sure you turn it off before you go fishing around in there. We’ve all seen Casualty, we know how these things happen.

Implausibly. And usually involving a rickety ladder and a well meaning family member…

But anyway, turn the thing off before digging around? Much obliged.

At the same time, lightly toast the pine nuts. This is important because if they blacken they’ll get bitter and St Jamie will see that it is not pukka. I heated mine in our iron skillet and played, literally, with my food by shifting them around into a line, like this.

See? Looks just like a delicious, nutty WARNING! PINE NUTS TOASTING! sign doesn’t it? Anyway, once they’re done, tip them into the blender with Klaus and DESTROY THEM SOME MORE. Again, this’ll take frikking ages. Keep at it. The fun part is yet to come.
There are two things about pesto I hate. The first is when the EEC olive oil lake is poured into a bottle of pesto, so you need a tiny, carbohydrate-y Jacques Cousteau to dive down and actually get at the magic cheese gunk. The second is when the pesto is so completely devoid of moisture that it tastes like slightly cheesy, ashy greens. This can also have an unfortunate, and rapid effect on certain bits of the digestive system. Sainsbury’s brand pesto, I’m looking at you.
The good thing about St Jamie’s recipe is that it completely removes both of these problems. Once Klaus and the nuts are rendered down to their smallest possible parts, scrape it all out into a bowl. Then, add the Parmesan and olive oil and stir them both in. Not enough oil? Add some more. Not enough cheese? Add some more. Too much olive oil? Add some cheese. Too much cheese? Add a lug of olive oil. It’s pretty much fool proof (And not food proof as I just typed! HA! HA! I …yeah), and then both you and St Jamie will see that not only have you lugged well, but that your pesto is pukka.

Jamie be his name (Bows head)

Of course, pesto’s just a component, albeit a brilliant one. So, what am I going to put it in? I imagine you asking? I am glad I imagined you asking that because I’m going to put it in St Jamie’s Camembert parcels with…red stuff. There’s definitely red stuff. There’s red stuff dip and red stuff salad but, well, the book’s downstairs and, anyway I’m not doing the parcels.

Or the salad.

But what I am doing is playing with frozen pastry. This is actually my second time out with these little guys (The first, a meal which involved Jack Bauer-ing peppers by holding them against an open flame whilst yelling ‘DAMN YOU FOR MAKING ME DO THIS!’, is coming soon) and they’re great. You just heat them on one side at 200 degrees C, set a timer that you anticipate finishing to the second (Honestly, I opened the clock app and it was on 00:01.) and go on about the rest of your business. Which in my case was tidying down as the pesto was pretty much done.
After about ten minutes, the cases look like this:

So you turn them over and put them back in for another ten or so. Then, when they’re possibly golden brown (Texture like sun?) or at the least brown, pop them out, put them on your chopping board and carefully take the middle button of pastry out. It’ll have collapsed so just run the knife around the inner edge of the circular mouth, or Deliciovortex, as freelance food scientists call it, of the pastry case. The button will pop out, you put it to one side with the others and then, if you’re me, feed them to your grateful girlfriend.
Now comes the really fun part. Take a spoonful of pesto (The name of the song Mary Poppins SHOULD sing) and squish it into the central opening of the tarts.

Them, chop a little piece of the Camembert off and put it on top of the pesto cases. Then pop them back in the oven for about ten minutes and heat up the tomato soup you had, up until now, forgotten about.
Oh and if the cases happen to take longer to cook than you want? Well you’ll have to…(Shades on), camembert with them…


Then once they’re ready, put the cases in a bowl, put the soup in two other bowls and take the does it look anything like the book photo!

And it doesn’t! And who cares! Cos it’s DELICIOUS. Seriously, the Camembert and pesto combine in an amazing way, the two textures wrap around one another and feel solid and almost meaty and it’s just great.

What I learnt:
-Pesto is both easy to make and easy to tailor.
-Tomato soup is a little dull, even with the herbs we put in it. So, got a tomato soup recipe you like? Ping me at the contact details below and I’ll make it and blog about it.
-St Jamie’s pesto is the besto. And lo, it was pukka.

We lug in his name.

(Bows head)

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