Although the grape harvest in our valley seems to be later this year, autumn seems to have arrived early. Along with this, we have had a wonderful experience: a pair of swallows building a nest in preparation for the spring. Jack and Jill are Greater Striped Swallows, indigenous to Africa, and they summer south of Namibia, and winter in Northern Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. They will leave us in two to three weeks’ time. Their nests are characterised by a tunnel which they will build when only when they return in the spring.
Clever little birds, planning for the future, I reflected as I made basil pesto on Sunday.
You will need a very, very generous picking of sweet basil, leaves stripped from the stems and the damaged leaves discarded.
Rule of thumb: about two-thirds more basil than nuts and Parmesan or Pecorino cheese, coarsely grated.
About the nuts: traditional (and the best) pesto is made with pine nuts. They are expensive so I substitute them with cashews which also have a high oil content. To enhance the flavour, toast them in a dry pan, allowing them to cool before you crush and add them to the other ingredients.
One or two cloves of garlic. Be careful with the garlic: even if you like lots of garlic, remember that combining dairy with garlic makes the garlic flavour stronger. I’ve learned this the hard way…..
Then, of course, the ubiquitous pinch of salt which is optional if you’re not using a pestle and mortar (which does make the best pesto…), and because the salt does help with the maceration of the leaves and the garlic. Enough olive oil to make a thick paste. I usually add it as I go along.
Bung all the leaves into the food processor, with the garlic cloves and whiz for a few seconds – not too long; then add olive oil and the other ingredients and whiz or pulse until you have a good, thick paste, adding more olive oil as you need.
Bottle as you would other preserves, in sterilized jars and top with olive oil to keep it fresh.
Make a caprese salad, enjoy on pasta, sandwiches, as a dip with yoghurt for crudites or as an accompaniment to whatever you please!