Pesto By Hand

[One of my oldest friends, Alex Dickson, bravely agreed to tackle one of the hardest Sauce Week challenges: pesto by hand. By hand! Here’s her account of how it all went down. Take it away, Alex!]

The ingredients for a basil pesto sauce are simple but Adam challenged me to do this pesto old school Italian style, so the process was what made me nervous.

Nervous about making pesto? Wow, Alex, that sounds like something that’s really worth getting anxious about. Your life must be challenging. Stop judging me, Reader! I wanted this pesto to be good because I was making it for my parents, and cooking something for my father that he really likes is one of my favorite things.


So, I thought, how am I going to make sure that this is chopped just right? And then I remembered Adam saying that a chef’s best friend is a sharp knife, so I chose wisely.


I also found that chopping all the ingredients was quite easy when I had company to chat with while doing it (thanks, Mom and Dad!). Also, because all the ingredients go together right away (except for the olive oil which gets poured in slowly at the end), I could use the same cutting board and the same knife and just keep adding to the bowl as I went. EASY– even for this amateur.

I started with two cups of packed fresh basil (though I didn’t measure this exactly). This basil chopping took the longest because of the amount and because I wanted the pieces to be relatively small. Then I chopped fresh garlic. Then the pine nuts (this required the most concentration because of the consistency of the pine nuts and because I’m an idiot who can’t really shave her legs or file papers without slicing herself). They started like this:


and ended like this:


Then I grated fresh Parmesan-Reggiano cheese and added that to the mix.

Once all those were mixed together, I employed my dad to slowly pour the olive oil while I continued mixing.


We tried it, and since I’m a 31 year old who still desperately wants her parents’ approval, I asked my dad to salt and pepper to his liking. This is a picture of the pesto next to a pile of parmesan since everyone loves more cheese.


his is a picture of me giving my dad a taste. I look like a condescending nurse at a retirement home, but it was for the cameras. Again, I’ll thank you to stop judging me. A quote from ol’ Rick: “I’ve never had pesto this good!”


My mom and I had the pesto on whole wheat pasta, and my dad had it on traditional semolina pasta. I loved this kind of pesto so much more than the kind most of us Americans are used to because the taste of the basil came out so much better, and the chance to get some bites with more garlic and others with more pine nut was really satisfying. I’ll definitely be making it again!!!

9 thoughts on “Pesto By Hand”

  1. Hi Alex (and Adam). Wow, that looks like quite a job. Living in Italy, I wanted to give you a couple of pointers for the next time you make it: 1) it is called pesto from the word “pestare” which means to pound. That is because it used to be made with a mortar and pestle. You put all the ingredients in whole and then just pound away, while adding the olive oil until it turns into a paste (which is really tiring but sure beats having to hand chop all those ingredients!). The smaller, more tender leaves are the best for pesto. 2) Ligurians (the region where pesto originated) are adamant that you should never chop basil with a knife because the metal blade oxidizes the leaves, thus changing the flavor. That is why the pesto puritans insist that making it in a mortar as opposed to a blender/food processor is so much better: no metal involved. And that is also why you should rip basil when using it to garnish a pasta or Caprese and not chop it. Hope this was useful. The end result, by the way, looks delicious.

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