Have you ever made real pesto from scratch with a mortar and pestle? In today’s post I’ll share my plant-based version of the recipe as well as the process for making pesto by hand!
I’m sorry to say it, but this is actually the first time I’ve made pesto all summer. It’s something Chris and I usually really like, so I try to make a big batch for pasta using the basil out of the garden at least a few times every summer. You just can’t beat real pesto made from scratch with summertime basil. I finally decided that it’s now or never, because summer definitely won’t last forever, and I decided that I’d better make my first batch of pesto this year really count. Emile Henry sent me a really beautiful mortar and pestle, which I’ll be honest, I mostly just use as a decorative item, but I was curious to making an actual recipe with it, so the stars aligned perfectly for this pesto-making session. Of course, it’s pesto, so it was amazing. I would say that the flavours of mortar and pestle pesto are actually even more intense than regular food processor pesto so you really need an even smaller amount. I had mine over zucchini noodles. The. Best.
The Best Mortar and Pestle for Making Pesto
The real reason I was motivated to try this method for making pesto, instead of just using my trusty food processor, was of course this beautiful mortar and pestle. I love how different it is from a lot of them that I see and how it looks like it’s actually meant to be used. The big, wide bowl means that you have a little more room to work and the little bumps around the edges make it really easy to hold on to. I have to admit that I really thought I would “ruin” this piece by actually using it though. Well, ruin is a bit of a strong word, but I thought it would for sure be stained green after I was done. The outside of the bowl has a beautiful white glaze, but the interior has more of a porous, unglazed finish. I was sure it would be bright green and smell like garlic. I should have known, based on my experience with my other Emile Henry pieces, that they are the masters of non-stick. Somehow, the whole thing washed up beautifully with no staining or odor retention at all. I’m definitely impressed!
Ingredients Needed for the Real Pesto Made With a Mortar and Pestle
- Fresh basil
- Pine nuts
- Olive oil
- Nutritional yeast
That’s it! So simple. The only change that you need to make a classic pesto recipe into a plant-based one is to substitute nutritional yeast for the parmesan cheese. I promise, you won’t even miss the cheese. Nutritional yeast gives you all the cheesy flavour, and an extra little boost of vitamin B12 too! 🙂 I think much of what we think is cheese when we look at traditional pesto recipes is actually just the ground-up pine nuts anyway. I realized that after making this and noticing how it looked pretty much identical to past pestos that I’ve made.
The Process for Making Pesto With a Mortar and Pestle
The way I’ve always made pesto in the past is to just toss everything into my food processor and pulse until everything came together, then I’d drizzle a little extra olive oil over top. When you use a mortar and pestle, it helps to do things in a specific order, just to make it a bit easier to grind everything up by hand. At first it might seem like things aren’t going to come together, but once you get them ground up a little bit, the process happens pretty quickly. It’s definitely good exercise! It takes me about seven to ten minutes to make a batch.
Start out by adding your peeled garlic cloves to the mortar and pestle, along with a bit of salt and grind everything up until the garlic becomes a paste.
Next add in your basil leaves in a few small batches, grinding them down each time before adding in the next batch.
Add in your pine nuts and grind those too, followed by the nutritional yeast, which you’ll just kind of need to mix in with a circular motion.
Finish by mixing in your olive oil. If you plan to store any of the pesto for later use, drizzle a little extra olive oil on top once you have the pesto in a container to help keep it from turning brown.
Here’s the full printable recipe!
Have you ever made real pesto from scratch with a mortar and pestle? In today's post I'll share my plant-based version of the recipe as well as the process for making pesto by hand!
- 1 large bunch Fresh basil leaves (about 1.5-2-ish cups of leaves)
- 2 cloves Garlic
- 1/2 tsp Salt
- 3 tbsp Pine nuts
- 2 tbsp Nutritional yeast
- 1/4 cup Olive oil
Add salt and garlic to the bowl of the mortar and pestle. Grind the garlic until it forms a paste.
Working in small batches, add in basil leaves and crush into the garlic/salt mixture, adding more leaves as one batch becomes incorporated.
Add in the pine nuts and grind them in as well.
Add the nutritional yeast and stir/grind everything together in a circular motion.
Stir in the olive oil and top with more olive oil to store the pesto and prevent browning.
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Courtenay Hartford is the author of creeklinehouse.com, a blog based on her adventures renovating a 120-year-old farmhouse in rural Ontario, Canada. On her blog, Courtenay shares interior design tips based on her own farmhouse and her work as founder and stylist of the interior photography firm Art & Spaces. She also writes about her farmhouse garden, plant-based recipes, family travel, and homekeeping best practices. Courtenay is the author of the book The Cleaning Ninja and has been featured in numerous magazines including Country Sampler Farmhouse Style, Better Homes and Gardens, Parents Magazine, Real Simple, and Our Homes.