Marino’s Magnificent Pesto

Pesto, Pesto, do your very besto!! 

In the 1958 movie Houseboat starring Sofia Loren and Cary Grant she sings “Presto, Presto” but, I always replace it with Pesto.

I have made pesto lots of times however, when I was recently in Imperia, Italy. Marino a Master known for his pesto (and that is saying something in Liguria where pesto is from!) taught me and my class of Olive Oil lovers his secret formula for making the BEST you have ever had!!

Try it once and you will be ruined for life!

 I dream about this pesto.

You will need:

  • a mortar and pestle
  • 1 large clove of garlic (yes! you heard me only 1 large one. I promise it is all you will need)
  • 1 heaped tsp of Maldon flaked sea salt
  • 4 bunches (21 gram containers) of tender young basil leaves – just use the tender small ones
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh pine nuts
  • 1 cup (a bit more if you like) finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesano Reggiano – only fresh
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil – I used Mandranova Nocellara from Sicily

This is Marino. He is a chemist and the Vice President at ONAOO which is National Assoication of Olive Oil Tasters in Imperia. One evening we were all at a beautiful dinner and Marino shared his secrets to making truly the best pesto I have ever had in my life!

First, let me tell you he is very particular about every component and the order in which you must add these parts to make the perfect pesto. This is his mortar and pestle which he has had for over 50 years. The stone mortar is over 1000 years old and the pestle is make from boxwood. What you can’t really see in the photo is the small bunches of tender, small basil leaves have a DOP designation around each bunch to certify they are grown in the area. This is the kind of designation that certifies extra virgin olive oils and wine. Seriously!

He makes his mix in the mortar in a specific order which I will show you. Once he has completed the pesto up to the last stage he removes every trace of the mix into a bowl and then only will he add the olive oil. He explained that he doesn’t want the oil to soak into the stone and he doesn’t want the oil on his pestle which is wood and could penetrate and ultimately go rancid after time.

This is my mortar and pestle. Not as pretty as his but, it will have to do.

Now, I understand that this is the wrong time of year to be making pesto but, like I said I was dreaming about how good it was and I was lucky enough to find these living basil plants in my grocery store (not DOP!) and they were pretty close to the size of bunches he had when he was making his pesto so I thought why not. These packages are 21grams each and I used 4 to make this recipe.

Step 1: add the 1 large clove of garlic to the mortar along with the flaked sea salt. Crush and make circular motions to get the garlic to almost dissolve and form a paste.

Step 2: carefully remove only the leaves from the plants and start to crush and blend in circular motions to completely pulverize the basil. This will probably take 3-4 minutes eahc time. You want it as smooth as possible before you add the next package.

Step 3: add each bunch and mix until very fine and smooth. In the end you will think you don’t have much pesto at all. It will be maybe 1/2 cup total. Take your time on this stage, you must make it smooth and creamy.

Step 4: add your pine nuts. You can add up to 1/3 of a cup if you like. I used a big heaping 1/4 cup. Crush and move pestle in circular motions until you have a smooth paste. At this stage it will turn a light green and the room will be gloriously scented with pesto!

Step 5: add your beautiful cheese and mix again until smooth and perfectly combined.

Step 6: scrape every bit out of the mortar and into a small bowl. It will not seem like much. It is approximately 1 cup of paste.

Step 7: add your oil a bit at a time until you get it to the consistency you like. I added just over 1/4 cup of Mandranova Nocellara. Now taste it and be prepared to be amazed!

Go on! taste it….perfect!

Toss it on your favorite pasta. Serve with a bit more grated cheese and a drizzle of oil. I think I wiped every bowl clean so I didn’t waste a drop! You can also just lather it on a piece of bread and you should, to taste that super concentrated flavour. I think I hear angels singing!

If you have any left you can freeze it in cubes then save in a Ziploc bag for another day.

2 responses

  1. Omg! You just took me back to Imperia! I couldnt believe he only used 1 clove of garlic but it tasted amazing! Clearly I’ve been using too much garlic all these years because this was way better than anything I’ve ever made! It was so fresh! I am now on the hunt for a mortar large enough to make enough to feed all my friends that have heard me boast about Marino’s fantastic pesto! Thanks for posting the recipe!

    • My mortar is not that big and it only makes about a cup of pesto but wow so super concentrated. I also have been using too much garlic when I made it in a food processor. YUM

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