The secret cook – memories of herbs, and a homemade pesto

When I was a child my first realisation of the transformation that herbs could make to a meal was when my grandfather made an omelette using dried herbs. The resulting omelette was exotically different to the standard plain omelette, and a revelation. Fresh herbs were rarely used or sold then and used in sparing quantities such as a parsley garnish, or in specific dishes such as parsley sauce to have with fish or ham.
Today we are able to buy many lovely fresh herbs and I have really been enjoying the pleasure of ordering my organic herbs and using them in cooking.

Herbs have excellent health benefits and can provide us with valuable antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, anti-carcinogenic, and vitamins, but they also enrich and add wonderful variety to our everyday diet.
There are the classic uses of herbs, mint with new potatoes, with peas, fresh or frozen, and with lamb in a fresh mint sauce. Don’t forget drinks either, mint with lemonade brings an extra welcome freshness, as a herb tea, just boiling water on fresh mint leaves, in a jug Pimm’s, or of course central to a mojito.
Try making your own pesto, fresh basil, olive oil, toasted pine nuts, or sunflower seeds, garlic, almonds, or other nuts or seeds, and grated Parmesan. I have a stick blender that works really well for this, but traditionally a pestle and mortar is used.

Anyway here is an actual recipe:
I x large bunch of fresh basil leaves (about 60g)
25g pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 x garlic cloves
A pinch of salt
4 tbsp Parmesan, finely grated
4 tbsp Pecorino, finely grated (or just use one of these)
120ml extra virgin olive oil
If you’re using a pestle and mortar, put basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt into a heavy mortar and using the pestle grind against the sides to crush ingredients into a paste. Then add cheeses, and slowly incorporate the olive oil. If you’re using a food processor or blender add all ingredients except cheeses and blend at reasonably high speed, then use a lower speed for adding the cheeses. When you have cooked your pasta reserve 4 tablespoons of the cooking water and add this to the pesto before dressing. This really helps to distribute it evenly.

Add any fresh herbs to salads, rice salads or bean salads. These bring a lovely spring variety to your table. Don’t forget to put your delicious fresh herbs into that omelette either!

The Secret Cook

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