Using mortar and pestle instead of food processor for pesto recipe?

30
10
Joined Dec 8, 2015
Hi all!

I'll probably make a freeze-ahead pesto recipe tomorrow or Sunday, and I'd like to know if I can use my big granite mortar and pestle for it instead of the food processor indicated (don't own a food processor).  I got the idea to modify it from Marcella Hazan's mortar and pestle pesto technique.  Please see in bold below my modified plans.  Thanks!

Ingredients:

-3 garlic cloves, unpeeled

-1 cup pecans

-7 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

-1/4 cup fresh parsley leaves

-1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

-kosher salt and pepper

1) Toast garlic in 8-inch skillet over medium heat until softened and spotty brown.

2) While garlic cools, toast pecans in now-empty skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until golden and fragrant.

3) Process 6 tablespoons oil, parsley, garlic, and pecans in food processor until smooth, about 1 minute, scraping down sides of bowl as needed.  Transfer mixture to small bowl, stir in Parmesan, and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Add parsley, kosher salt, garlic, and pecans to mortar and grind in a rotary motion against the sides of mortar until a paste is formed.  Once paste is formed, add Parmesan and grind evenly into the mixture using the pestle.  Add the oil in a very thin stream, beating it into the mixture with a wooden spoon.  Remove to small bowl and salt and pepper to taste.
 
Last edited:

kuan

Moderator
Staff member
7,117
546
Joined Jun 11, 2001
Well, it's not just grinding against the side. You actually need to pound it more than grind it.

I only use nuts, garlic, basil, a bit of salt, and oil for my pesto.  I add the parmesan later.

Use the best ingredients, freshest basil, fresh grated parmesan.  Modify the proportions to your liking.  The result is unbelievable.
 
2,522
802
Joined Feb 8, 2009
There isn't anything in the recipe that will fight the process. It should paste up pretty good. The key is putting in the olive oil slowly. The best way to do this is with a squirt btl. ..........Parsley is the only green leaf in the pesto?? .....Pre chopping the ingredients before you put into the mortar may make it an easier process.
 
30
10
Joined Dec 8, 2015
Good eye ChefBilly for the parsley.  Yes, this recipe explicitly states it wanted to avoid the usual basil-based pesto and use parsley instead.  Parsley is the only green in this pesto.

I may very well mince the parsley and crush the garlic and pecans before adding to the mortar.  And thanks for the tip on the squirt bottle!
 
2,522
802
Joined Feb 8, 2009
 
Good eye ChefBilly for the parsley.  Yes, this recipe explicitly states it wanted to avoid the usual basil-based pesto and use parsley instead.  Parsley is the only green in this pesto.

I may very well mince the parsley and crush the garlic and pecans before adding to the mortar.  And thanks for the tip on the squirt bottle!
After you try out this recipe you can also try different herbs and nuts in pesto........Lets us know how your dish turns out........Good luck...
 

kuan

Moderator
Staff member
7,117
546
Joined Jun 11, 2001
I'm such a friggin' line cook.  I didn't read the recipe.
 
30
10
Joined Dec 8, 2015
Hi everyone!  Well, it turned out... interesting.

The problem?  Way too garlicky.  It wasn't BAD...it just tasted more like a garlic/Alfredo sauce than a nutty Pesto.  My guess is that I didn't toast the garlic in the skillet long enough as indicated in the recipe to mellow the garlic flavor.  It said to toast the garlic until "softened and spotty brown," which I did (the garlic had some spots on it and felt a little softer to the touch), but when I ate the pesto the garlic flavor nearly overpowered the pecan, parsley and Parmesan.

The other culprit may have been not enough pesto per serving.  I ended up with only enough pesto for 1/4 cup pesto per 1/4 pound pasta (my typical pasta serving).  I honestly didn't know how much pasta water to use to "spread" the pesto over the pasta, or even what consistency of pesto I was looking for when adding the water.  Certainly, as you can see in the photo with the pesto in the mortar it is not as slick/oily as a lot of other pestos (it's a lot more grainy, but it wasn't dry).  I don't know if that's a good or bad thing; when I added the pesto without water to the pasta it didn't spread/coat at all, and it took nearly 1/4 cup pasta water to make it emulsify. 

Maybe all that water brought out the garlic flavor more?  I know that I didn't taste the garlic that much when I tasted it straight from the mortar when it was freshly made; I tasted the pecans a lot more.  Or perhaps the freezing of the pesto altered the taste profile?  Maybe I should just add less garlic next time?

My next approach will be to add double the amount of pesto (1/2 cup) to the same amount of pasta (1/4 cup) so I don't have to use so much water.  Hopefully this will not make it so garlicky?

Thanks!

 
Last edited:
2,563
538
Joined Apr 25, 2014
Never heard of cooking garlic in a pesto.  That's odd. 

But the water part is REAL WEIRD.   You should have enough oil that it is easy to toss the pasta. 
 
Last edited:
615
60
Joined Dec 1, 2015
I have success with tempering garlic with by toasting it unpeeled and blanching.

Regarding water, about 95% of the pasta recipes I read recommend saving a bit of the pasta cooking water to adjust the final consistency of the sauce.  The starch in the water aids in the final texture of the sauce.
 
30
10
Joined Dec 8, 2015
I actually think it's a good idea to add 1-3 tsp more oil to my pesto and stir it in to recombine before adding it to the pasta next time.  I agree with MillionsKnives that the pesto should have enough oil to spread pretty well on its own onto the pasta, with perhaps a little pasta water to help spread it a little further.

Looking again at that pic of my pesto in the mortar, it just didn't look slick/oily enough...
 
2,522
802
Joined Feb 8, 2009
 
I actually think it's a good idea to add 1-3 tsp more oil to my pesto and stir it in to recombine before adding it to the pasta next time.  I agree with MillionsKnives that the pesto should have enough oil to spread pretty well on its own onto the pasta, with perhaps a little pasta water to help spread it a little further.

Looking again at that pic of my pesto in the mortar, it just didn't look slick/oily enough...
Take a look at other pesto recipes. The amount of nuts they have in the recipe your using is twice to 2/3 more. I think the ingredients in the mortar came out two pasty. Then with the addition of pasta water it made it impossible to melt and coat the pasta. One thing to remember, just because it's a recipe doesn't mean it's a good recipe. It's not easy to get the right amount of pesto in a pasta dish. There is a lot of starch left on the pasta that needs to be adjusted when figuring out how much of pesto to use or make. If your making a pesto dish, follow a recipe that makes more then enough pesto so you can add more if needed. I don't think there was anything you did wrong, it's more that the recipe wasn't really a good recipe. 
 
65
52
Joined Jan 21, 2016
One of the characteristics of a mortar and pestle is when the ingredients are crushed,  more of the oils are released in such things as garlic and aromatic herbs like basil and mint.  In effect, a little goes a long way in the mortar and pestle.  If your pesto turned out too garlicky, this is probably the reason.  The general rule when using herbs and ingredients whose flavor is found their oils is to use about half as much depending on what it is.  Since garlic's flavor is found mostly in its potent oils, you should use even less....about 1/4 of what you would otherwise use to achieve the same level of garlic flavor.   Generally, I use elephant ear garlic because its milder and less likely to overpower the pesto.

As for the pesto not spreading over the pasta, add more oil.  The pesto in your picture is way to "dry" to be spreadable over pasta, especially if your pasta is spaghetti or angel hair etc.  Your pesto should have consistency similar to cream of wheat (for lack of a better description).  It should stick to the spoon but slowly flow off the spoon when the spoon its turned upright.  When its consistency is like that, then you should have no issues spreading it evenly throughout your pasta.  

I hope this helps.

Good luck!   
 

Latest posts

Top Bottom