nina | November 12th, 2013 - 9:00 am

Whether you pound it or blitz it, nothing beats a home-made pesto.

What seems amazing is that pesto was once unfamiliar. The 1980s marked the beginning of our love affair with Italian food, and pesto was its poster boy.

And ‘pesto’ has gone global too, using ingredients from Thailand to Mexico. Some are authentic local sauces, now renamed ‘pestos’, others are new inventions. You can understand their popularity – pestos deliver big flavours and are a pleasure to make. Pounding fragrant things – particularly garlic, basil, parsley – is a tremendous antidote to depression.

Asian ‘pestos’ use that same principle – pounding – as Italian ones and are good for spooning over fish, or stirring into bowls of rice. (Anyone who tosses such pestos with pasta – or adds parmesan to them – should be made to eat the worst sock-scented jarred stuff.) Won over by ease and sheer yumminess, it is wise to open your mind to what pesto can be.

There are good commercial pestos on the market but the home-made stuff is by far the best. For a mortar-made sauce start with the garlic and a little salt and pound to a paste, then add the nuts (if using), the herbs and any vegetables, and pound again. Slowly add the oil until you have a paste. With cheese, lightly pound half of it then stir in the remainder. All of the pestos below will keep, covered with clingfilm, for up to a day in the fridge; the Calabrian one will last a few days.

You can whizz the ingredients in a food processor, though it produces a less textured sauce. But remember what the pounding of fragrant things can do.

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