"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Pesto FAIL!

by Julie Tilsner on July 28, 2008

in Good Ideas Gone Bad, Vegetarian

I didn’t even know what pesto was until I was at least 25. I doubt my mother knows what pesto is to this day. That’s the kind of kitchen I was brought up in: processed food from start to finish.

But I am trying to make up for lost time. Eventually I will learn how to dice an onion neatly. One day I will know how to make an aioli sauce that won’t burn through people’s stomachs. And some day soon I will figure out how to make my own pesto.

But probably not today.

Last week my cooking coach, Kelli, arrived at my door with her two children and a basket of freshly-picked basil from her garden. “I’m just showing up at people’s houses asking if they can use any of this,” she grinned, sounding like the green fairy. She shoved three great handfuls of green and purple basil at me. “Here,” she said. “Make some fresh pesto.”

My kitchen filled with earthy pungence. “Pesto. So you grind this us with pine nuts and some kind of cheese and olive oil, right?” The best cooks I knew made their own pesto. It was a sign of savvy. A proof of skill. I had never even considered attempting it myself.

“Actually I make it without cheese or pine nuts, and it comes out just as good,” she said. “Just make a paste out of six garlic cloves, add a little oil, then pack your food processor tight with the basil and chop it up.”

“It’s that easy?”

“It’s that easy.”

I wasted no time. I fished out the blender I hoped would substitute for a food processor and washed and chopped the basil as best I could. I peeled six cloves of garlic and threw them in with a dollop of olive oil. By happy coincidence they blended into a paste. Feeling optimistic, I then packed the rest of the basil leaves into the blender.

Nothing. What was ground and pasty on the bottom stayed on the bottom. What was leafy and grean (or purple) stayed on top, un-pureed. Typical. I couldn’t bear to throw away all that fresh basil. Clearly I would need a plan B.

I had just thrown out my old mini food processor a few days before, in a fit of home organization, because it was found to have been cracked. Again, typical.

So I scraped everything out into a big Tupperware container and put it in the fridge, resolved to just buy myself another mini food processor later that day. Two days later, my kids fobbed off on Audge for three hours, I got my chance and ran to Target, only to find they didn’t have the brand I wanted.

By the time I came home with the appropriate mini processor, the garlic paste had congealed around the leaves, so I tried tossing the whole mess together, like a salad, to spread it about. Maybe I should add more garlic, I wondered? But then the pesto might be too garlicky, and you know how squeamish I am about seasonings.

Instead I stuffed the processor full of leaves, locked the lid and hoped for the best. I pressed the button and poured a little olive oil into the top because I’d seen people do this before. Presto! Chango!

Grainy green glop. And a kitchen that looked as if a bush had exploded within.

Dolloped over pasta for dinner later, it didn’t taste like much, other than green. The girl didn’t care for it. The boy wouldn’t touch it. Again, I was left to consume my dish on principal.

OK. So pesto isn’t that easy. There’s a reason it’s a showcase for skills. When I get those skills, I’ll let you know. Meanwhile, I’m prepared to try again and repeat as necessary until I get it right. I think this will be my next cooking class. Kelli? Got any more basil?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

elfini (Dawn) July 29, 2008 at 9:43 am

Yeah, I don’t know anything about making pesto. I do know that I have tried repeated to grow basil and have failed miserably each and every time. Pathetic.


Jessie July 29, 2008 at 3:43 pm

I can’t grow the stuff, but I can whip it into pesto. I would never (ever) leave out the nuts. The cheese can be omitted (if you must), but not the nuts. Of course, everyone has their own version. Here’s mine.


Jessie July 29, 2008 at 3:46 pm
kelli July 29, 2008 at 9:55 pm

Of course I have more basil! See the latest post at Green Acres, you’ll see that I can supply your every attempt! Couple of things…yes, pesto usually has pinenuts and cheese. I often make a “basil paste” w/o the cheese and nuts…makes it more versatile in my short-order kitchen!
Maybe we’ll make pesto this week! When using the blender, you might try layering the stuff…garlic, oil, (nuts), basil, more oil and then use the little hole and a wooden spoon to smash (pestare, Italian for pound)the ingredients down while pulsing. I think pulsing is a big part of blender pesto.
Oh, and season expertly…that good salt and freshly ground pepper will help too! Valiant effort!!
I have a huge basket of basil and will be making Daiquiris for the concert tomorrow night! See you there?


Shari July 30, 2008 at 4:39 pm

I made pesto a couple weeks ago and sort of improvised, not measuring, but did use pine nuts and shaved parmesan cheese. I skimped and used garlic in a jar. It turned out just fine. I’m no expert. I think if you eat it and don’t look at it, it’s fine.


Señor J August 2, 2008 at 4:32 am

What are you complaining about, try doing it my way w/ a good ol’ fashion MORTAR & PESTAL. Which btw, I ALWAYS misplace and end up using my Mexican “Mocajete”
I find that w/ pesto a little goes a long way, and you don’t have to use much. Cause if you save it, I find that it somehow always turns “black”, so make just enough, cause most of the time it’s thrown away.


eliza August 11, 2008 at 8:44 pm

i used to not making my own pesto. but this year i have basil plants, so last week or so i made my own (posted in my blog). you need to drizzle lots of olive oil to get it going, otherwise it’s just leaves paste 🙂 good luck next time!


Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: