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How to Make Basil Pesto with a Mortar and Pestle

The first time I tried basil pesto, I didn’t really care for it.  It was store-bought, and lacked any flavor or intensity.  Then I watched an episode of Jamie Oliver make pesto, and it looked so appetizing, that I had to give it a try.  After all, I enjoyed the key ingredients, so there was no reason why I shouldn’t enjoy the final product.  Pesto literally means “to pound”, and pesto is traditionally made with a mortar and pestle — as I’ve done in this recipe.  The result is a beautiful and creamy paste with rich texture, rather than a simple puree that almost certainly would be the result of using a blender or food processor.

Basil Pesto on Linguine

Basil Pesto on Linguine

Typically, pesto is made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt and pepper, but but you can experiment various greens and herbs (rocket, spinach, etc) and nuts (walnuts, pistachios, cashews) to come up with your own variety of pesto.

High Definition Video Presented Here:

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes (for the pasta)

Serves: 4 to 6 people, depending on portion size


  • A few handfuls of fresh basil leaves
  • ½ a clove of garlic, chopped
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Cup of pine nuts, very lightly toasted
  • 1 Cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp of lemon juice
  1. Mince the garlic with the sea salt in the mortar and pestle (M&P)
  2. Add the basil leaves to the M&P and do the same
  3. Toast the pine nuts on a frying pan.  Do not add any oil to the pan, just roast directly.  Be careful not the burn the pine nuts — a little heat goes a long way!
  4. Add the toasted pine nuts to the M&P, and bash them into a paste, incorporating them with the basil leaves.   You can control the texture of the pesto by how much grinding you do with the M&P
  5. Add the Parmesan cheese and grind it into the pesto so that it is fully incorporated
  6. Add the olive oil, but only enough so that the mixture is paste like, and a bit runny – not too much, or it will be a liquid, which we don’t want.
  7. Squeeze a little bit of lemon juice – only about a tsp or less and mix it into the pesto
  8. Season to taste with salt and pepper again to taste. A careful here, because the Parmesan cheese contributes a salty flavor, so don’t overdo it!

You can serve this over a bet of linguine pasta.  If you’re going to serve it on pasta, just remember to set aside some of the starchy pasta water that the linguine was cooking in, and add it to the pesto as you mix it into the pasta.  This will ensure that the pesto is moist, creamy and doesn’t dry up.

Serve with bocconcini mozzarella and tomato salad, and chicken breast stuffed with Mediterranean herb goat-cheese, wrapped in prosciutto bacon:

Pesto Linguine with Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken and Tomato Salad


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3 Responses to “How to Make Basil Pesto with a Mortar and Pestle”

  1. [...] have served the goat cheese-stuffed chicken breast with bocconcini mozzarella and tomato salad, and basil pesto on linguine pasta.  I enjoyed this meal with a full-bodied Italian San Martino Salice Salentino Riserva Rosso 2004 [...]

  2. [...] Rosemary Walnut Pesto is a departure from a traditional Basil and Pine Nut Pesto, but its more intense flavors go well with bold meats like Lamb or Duck. Rosemary and Walnut Pesto [...]

  3. Anita says:

    I watched your wonderful recipe of the basil pasta you made in your mortar and pestle. Thanks I really enjoyed watching it:)

    I am wanting to buy a mortar and pestle very soon and I really like the shallow shape of your mortar and pestle that you used in this video. Would you mind telling me from where you bought that one? I have checked on amazon, but I don’t see one with that exact size and shape as the one you have.

    I would love to buy the same one!

    Thanks so much

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