Pesto Without the Food Processor

The simple fact of the matter is that food processors, however useful they may be, are a great big pain in the ass to clean, with all those odd angles and sharp pieces. Not to mention it’s mostly plastic and thus takes forever to dry. This becomes especially infuriating when you’re cooking for just two people. With that in mind, I present to you: pesto without the food processor. You’ll chop more and clean less.


Let’s start with ingredients. First up is basil. I’m growing basil in my backyard, so I usually just pick the tops of my plants and go with however much I get. You can also pick up fresh basil in the grocery store, which a typical package will give you about a half cup of packed basil. Next up is two good-sized cloves of garlic, followed by nuts.

A few words on nuts: The most commonly called for nut in pesto is the pine nut, but pine nuts are pricey and their round shape makes them less than ideal for chopping by hand. There’s nothing that says you can’t use almonds, or cashews, or any other nut you prefer, even mixed nuts if that’s where you’re at. For the batch pictured here, I used walnuts.

Finally, you’ll need Parmesan cheese. Now yes, you could go with the pre-grated Parmesan in the green can, you could. But you’re about to go to the trouble to chop and then grind all of these ingredients by hand; shouldn’t you go with good Parmesan? You should. So, fresh grated Parmigiano-Reggiano with edible rind (pungent!).

Ingredients gathered, what you do next is chop the basil, garlic, and nuts as small as you can. I mean really small, as fine as you can get it. It’s a good idea to chop a few more nuts and grate a bit more cheese than you think you’ll need. That way you’ll have some flexiblity in how nutty and cheesy you’d like your pesto to be.


Finely chopped basil

Now we’ve got to talk about equipment. Since I really like pesto and am growing basil, I bought a mortar and pestle. If you’re not ready to make that investment, you can grind your ingredients together using the wooden end of a one-piece rolling pin or a strong, well-rounded spoon against the side of a bowl.

Add all of your basil and garlic to a bowl with some of your nuts and cheese along with some cracked black pepper and some kosher or sea salt. Next, put in a few splashes of extra virgin olive oil. Now all that’s left is to grind away. Just keep grinding everything together against the sides and bottom of the bowl. You’re looking for a nice smooth texture where all the ingredients are sort of melted together.


At this stage, the pesto is going to be pretty thick. After your pasta has boiled, mix in a little of the starchy pasta water with the pesto to loosen it up and spread it around. A broad flat noodle like fettucini is traditional, but you can use whatever kind of pasta you like. This time, I added sliced hot capicola ham and the leftover Parmesan cheese to finish it off.


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