As a veteran pesto maker (35+ years and counting), I was intrigued by Cook’s Illustrated’s promise of gentler, more well-balanced pesto, without the “bite” of raw garlic. After making their recipe tonight, I have to tell you to not waste your time. My pesto takes about 20 minutes to make – Cook’s Illustrated’s version took me double that time. I am all about spending more time if it appreciably enhances flavor, taste, or nutritional value. As someone who has eaten several hundreds of pesto preparations from yours truly, my wonderful husband Bill could not tell me that this was an improvement on my tried and true recipe. Plus, essential steps like reserving cooking water, adding a little unsalted butter, and mixing in both Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano during the tossing stage (not adding it in the food processor) were totally ignored in the Cook’s Illustrated recipe. Why would I take the time to the following, if it doesn’t yield a better result?
- Toast the unpeeled garlic for seven minutes and then wait until it is cooled to chop it.
- Bruise (Cook’s Illustrated’s words) my basil leaves with a meat pounder or rolling pin to “release essential oils”? Hello? Doesn’t the food processor also take care of that bruising? This is a classic example of a fussy extra step without any point!
- Measuring precisely 7 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil? Since I rarely have precisely two cups of basil leaves, I add a little less than ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil (or about 2/3 cup if I have a whopping three cups of packed basil leaves as in my recipe below). Most cooks routinely eye-ball measurements. Pesto isn’t an exact science – why subject it to this kind of precision?
- Toasting my pine nuts – unless, I was also going to reserve some to sprinkle on top of my finished dish for interest and texture (which the Cook’s Illustrated recipe doesn’t suggest).
I took the time, with an open mind, to make the recipe precisely as suggested. Although it yielded a good pesto, if I have to spend twice the amount of time making it, I’m always going to go back to my tried and true recipe. So for those of you who are into simplifying – please see my previous post for the best pesto recipe I know.