Sunday, 29 May 2016

Piquantly Powerful Pestle-Pounded Pesto

Less than a month ago, I picked up a stone pestle and mortar and, minding what some said about seasoning the thing before use, ground up several handfuls of brown rice over about a week. In the interim though, I did make a pestle-pounded pesto.

And it was delicious. But by golly, it was hard work.


Like mia nonna used to do it: basil pesto, pounded by hand


Since then, I've pounded a couple more single-serve batches of basil pesto in it, with mixed results. Simply grinding the leaves won't do - you have to bash them up quite a bit, especially if they're not fresh, like, out of the garden.

Once the bashing is done, however, wah.

One theory about why the pestle-and-mortar treatment for spice mixes and pestos is better is that, in contrast to the blender, you're not whipping air into the mixture. Herbs and spices contain a complex cocktail of chemicals, many of which react to oxygen and leave behind useless by-products, like rust. Any heat from the friction generated when solids rub against the blender blades also affect these chemicals and might turn them into other stuff.

At least, that's what I heard and read many years ago. All that came back while I enjoyed the most recent batch of basil pesto pasta.


Ku lihat hijau~ ♫ Well, maybe that wasn't appropriate, but I do. Pesto's
still mostly greenish ten minutes after I made it, because science (more
precisely, because of the antioxidant lemon juice). The other yellow bits
is the grated lemon zest; wanted to waste less of the lemon.


Because my countertops are all wood-based boards, I've had to do most of the hard work on the floor, or while holding the mortar with one hand. Those basil leaves had to be bashed up real good, along with the garlic and cashew nuts.

The finer stuff: salt (if you want) or lemon juice, pepper, Parmesan cheese and olive oil can go in after that, and mixed with a spoon. I find adding a bit more olive oil helps sweep more of the pesto paste off the mortar, but I don't try too hard, and you can't really scrape it all off.

So I leave some food behind in the mortar because - call me superstitious - the mortar and pestle deserves a little reward for their hard work. Then, after a few moments, I wash it all off - without detergent.

Then I soak up any water pooling in the mortar with a paper towel. I once left a very wet mortar alone overnight and found stuff seemingly growing in a tiny patch at the bottom.


Meals like this are worth the sweat - but I wonder whether my neighbours
agree, since the equipment also makes a lot of noise


Ten minutes later, while checking the boiling pasta, I noticed that the pesto was still mostly green, and not mossy green-brown like the machine-blended pesto of yore. Even when mixing the pesto and eating it later, it still looked green.

As long as I'm not serving more than four, I will be pounding my pesto in the mortar from now on, thank you very much.


30/05/2016   Sorry, guys, just remembered that the lemon juice I added might have played a bigger role in the pesto's awet muda - but it's still mostly green because science.

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