In defense of the mortar and pestle...
This week's episode of the Savage Kitchen demonstrates a play on the classic recipe of basil pesto, or pesto alla genovese, as it is denoted in Italian. The variation demonstrated uses sun-dried tomatoes instead of basil, for a brilliant red color and tangy flavor. Pestos, oils, purees, and other sauces can all be easily cranked out in a blender or food processor, but let's talk about something that many cooks might view as 'antique' – the mortar and pestle.
Electric kitchen utensils are, in the grand scheme of things, a mere blip in the culinary time line of humans. Some of the earliest known documentation of this brilliant device dates from well over a thousand years B.C.E, and even though the device is rather antiquated, there are serious advantages of a mortar and pestle over modern equipment.
Basil pesto, made in a mortar and pestle, will be smoother and pack more of a wallop than if it was made in a food processor. Why? Well, while the food processor rapidly cuts all the ingredients into small pieces, the mortar and pestle crushes and smooths out the garlic cloves and pine nuts, turning them into a fine paste. This releases all of the oils from the garlic into the pesto, and cements all the delicate flavor of the pine nuts into the pesto, rather than small chunks missed the blade and now just get stuck in your teeth. Pureeing the sun-dried tomatoes from this week's episode is, admittedly, easier in a food processor – but you can still start the pesto in one, and add your chopped tomatoes separately.
Aioli is another perfect example. Some people are fine with simply adding some chopped garlic to mayonnaise; others take it a step further and whip up their own aioli base with crushed garlic. The best, though, is to use the mortar and pestle for every step. Crush the garlic to a smooth paste first, then whip up the aioli with your egg yolks and olive oil directly in the mortar. All that wonderful garlic oil you crushed out of the cloves is now in your aioli, not stuck in pieces of the cloves or smeared on your cutting board where you chopped the garlic.
Sure, it may take a bit longer to make your sauce, and it may be a bit more difficult to clean, but once you try a sauce made the old fashioned way, you'll understand how sometimes beautiful things are lost in the switch to modern convenience. Try a fresh garlic aioli or pesto, crushed in a bowl with your own hands, and I guarantee you'll see (and taste!) the difference.
1/4 LB BASIL
5 EA CLOVES GARLIC
¼ C TOASTED PINE NUTS
1/2 C OLIVE OIL
½ C PARMESIAN CHEESE, GRATED
For pesto, in a blender container or food processor bowl combine basil, Parmesan cheese, oil, nuts and garlic. Cover and blend or process with several on-off turns until a paste forms, stopping the machine several times and scraping the sides.
Make-Ahead Tip: Store pesto in airtight containers. Chill up to 2 days or freeze up to 1 month. Bring pesto to room temperature before using.
You may substitute 1cup Sun Dried Tomatoes
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