10 Jul2006


Let’s cook something Italian, shall we? Pesto is one of those dishes that you see everywhere…and more often than not it is executed poorly. Too bad that such a simple sauce for pasta can get so incredibly mangled. In the Philippines, the single biggest deterrent to a decent pesto is the underlying pest2quality of fresh basil leaves. Unless you grow your own, and preferably in a slightly cooler environment, the commercially purchased leaves one buys seem to be too big, too old, too bruised or too munched on by bugs to make a decent pesto. One of my pet peeves is that the pesto tastes more like a “freshly hewn grass pasta” than a basil pasta. A few weeks ago, I saw some spectacular basil from my favorite source Zacky’s, which had a fresh delivery at Rustan’s Supermarket in Rockwell. I bought several containers of very fresh, unbruised, lighter green basil leaves and whipped out some of the ingredients I had hand-carried back from Italy to make my own pesto sauce.

To make, grate some good parmigiano reggiano cheese and some good pecorino romano (a hard sheep’s milk cheese). Toast some pine nuts and slice some mild fresh pest3garlic (local garlic can be harsh, be judicious with its use) and take out the best extra virgin olive oil you have hiding in your pantry. Put your pot of water on high heat and just as it is reaching the boiling point, add say a tablespoon or so of salt to the water and a minute or two later add the dry pasta, I prefer linguine (flatter than spaghetti) with this sauce. While the pasta is cooking, blitz the cheese, basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic and some olive oil in a food processor (I suppose you could use a large mortar and pestle if you want to do this the traditional way), add more oil slowly until you achieve the desired consistency. It shouldn’t be too thick nor too thin. Taste it and add salt and lots of cracked black pepper. The cheeses are salty and you may not need more salt. Once the pasta is drained (save some of the cooking water), toss the pasta with the pesto, add some cooking water if it appears too dry and serve with more grated parmiggiano and pecorino on the side. Traditionally this is made with parmigiano but I like using the two cheeses as it adds complexity and taste… I learned this from my wife’s cousin who lives in Rome!



  1. ykmd says:

    yummm, pesto! i’ve never made my own although my sis-in-law showed me how to do it. i just buy the pesto in a jar from costco :)

    Jul 10, 2006 | 4:58 am


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  3. millet says:

    a timely post to celebrate the azzurri and fabulous fabio!

    Jul 10, 2006 | 7:12 am

  4. Wilson Cariaga says:

    I once tried doing pesto with a mortar and pestle, and yeah, after a while, I transfered it to the food processor. . .hehe. . . they make it look easy in TV shows. . .

    Jul 10, 2006 | 8:28 am

  5. hchie says:

    Any tips on how to keep the pesto green? I’ve tried adding some parsley but it still turns a mucky brown after a short while.

    Jul 10, 2006 | 8:38 am

  6. Marketman says:

    hchie, the basil oxidizes when it is chopped, especially with a stainless blade…therefor, this should be made “a la minute” just moments before you are actually going to serve it. I do not agree that you should make a lot and stock it in the fridge… just make it right before eating and the color will still be a vibrant green. Also, try using younger, sweeter leaves as I find the older more mature and dark green leaves taste a little bitter and grass-like. I make this as guests are seated to the table…

    Jul 10, 2006 | 8:43 am

  7. gonzo says:

    To keep pesto green, after making it put in a glass jar and pour enough EVOO on top to seal off the mixture from oxygen (which is what turns the pesto brown).

    another tip: try making pesto with good ol’ QDB (queso de bola). i know it’s weird but it is shockingly delicious.

    Jul 10, 2006 | 11:00 am

  8. izang says:

    do you grow your own herbs,MM? i would like to grow my own, but the weather here in manila is a problem. anyone that could give any tips on successfully propagating backyard potted herbs? it would greatly appreciated….my space could only accomodate pots, im afraid…

    thanks in advance…

    Jul 10, 2006 | 12:55 pm

  9. Marketman says:

    izang, I have several previous posts on herbs and in general, I fail miserably at growing them…you may want to look up the posts in the archives… Now, I usually buy them although I do grow some in a small kitchen garden that I have at home.

    Jul 10, 2006 | 1:50 pm

  10. edee says:

    what a timely post, i just made pesto last night, will have it later for dinner, harvested the basil from my friends pot :) …. after having tasted freshly made pesto, I’ve never bought from groceries anymore……gonzo’s right, top it with olive oil to keep it green…..

    Jul 10, 2006 | 4:25 pm

  11. frayed says:

    Another nice way of using pesto on pasta is to add green beans (Baguio beans) and potatoes. It is a common combination in Italy and if you google pesto, green beans and potatoes, you’ll find many different variations or personal recipes. Not sure which region it started in. My sister (who lived in Milan for many yrs) often does this and I love it.

    Jul 11, 2006 | 7:00 am

  12. weng says:

    I am a housewife,Can I make pesto sauce as my home business? I just wanted to do something while my kids are in school.Can you give some ideas how to do it.Thank you so so much.God bless. Weng

    Jul 11, 2006 | 12:49 pm

  13. Marketman says:

    weng, that’s a fairly loaded question…if you are to make anything at home to sell, I suppose you would have to make something that is particulalry good, particulalrly well priced or both. Then you have to deal with ingredients, manufacture, selling, etc. Pesto is fairly easy to make, but unless you have some sort of advantage such as fields and fields of good basil, great olive oil or pine nuts…I’m not sure how you would take this beyond home-made pesto… perhaps baked goods of some sort would be a better place to start? And I would only recommend it if it is something you really have a passion for and really do well…

    Jul 11, 2006 | 1:30 pm

  14. Ronx says:

    Thank you for this post, MrketMan. Yup, growing basil can be a challenge. After a long dry spell, my basil plants were all puny, with small leaves and a pronounced bitter taste. I’m trying out newer varieties – salad-leaf basil. Bigger leaves, and milder flavors. Perfect for eating raw, in sandwiches or salads.

    I’ll let a few flowers mature, and harvest some seeds for you, if you like.


    Jul 18, 2006 | 5:07 am

  15. Marketman says:

    Ronx, thanks so much for that offer. But I have given up on growing from seeds…I just buy them from my suki at FTI for 3 plants for PHP100! :)

    Jul 18, 2006 | 6:18 am

  16. Nel says:

    Marketman, where do you buy your basil? Where’s FTI?

    Jul 19, 2006 | 11:35 am

  17. Marketman says:

    Live Basil I buy from a suki at FTI (Food Terminal Inc) saturday market in Taguig. Alternatively, Zacky’s sells good herbs at Rustans Rockwell and other locations. I find he has some of the freshest basil in the cold section of vegetables. Alternatively, on the way to Tagaytay, try the Toscana farms stand at the Caltex station on the way up from Sta rosa, they have terrific live herbs like thyme, rosemary, basil, sage, etc.

    Jul 19, 2006 | 1:31 pm

  18. Mrs AP says:

    MM, where do you buy pine nuts? Terry’s? Santis?

    Thanks for always sharing your recipes with us whether it be a success or a try again piece =)

    Keep it up!

    Nov 7, 2006 | 9:52 pm

  19. Marketman says:

    Mrs. AP, yes, santis and terry’s carry pine nuts. Sometimes you see them at Rustans as well. If you do buy them, freeze them so they last longer before going rancid.

    Nov 8, 2006 | 2:19 pm

  20. Raymond says:

    I would like to know where can I buy white sage leaves or herbs in Manila and in Baguio city? Please let me know in my email at raycor178@hotmail.com, thanks

    Nov 20, 2007 | 5:43 pm

  21. Cecilia says:

    I make pesto a couple of times a month, as my family loves it. I agree with Gonzo and Edee about topping with olive oil to prevent the oxidation. And, like you and your cousin-in-law, I also use pecorino cheese (Locatelli) which gives it more complexity. But, and this is probably going to give your cousin’s husband a heart attack, I also add a few drops of really hot sauce (Pain), lemon zest and lemon juice. Another considered faux pas that I do is that I usually serve it with grilled shrimp. A couple of Italian friends have had this version, and they both were so surprised and said they don’t know why Italians haven’t thought of it. A faux pas, because of the mix of seafood and cheese… I also sometimes use Thai or Persian basil as an Asian alternative… oh, and last but not the least, I learned from our farmers’ market vendor (Santa Monica) that if you cut the flowers off before they are able to bloom, it’ll prevent the leaves from developing that bitterish-metallic flavor. Thank you for this blog!

    Mar 18, 2009 | 10:13 am


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