Pesto variations

(1) Rocket, parsley and basil

  • half a bunch of flat leaf parsley
  • half a bunch of basil
  • several large handfuls wild rocket
  • clove of garlic
  • a couple of tblsps sauted pine nuts
  • olive oil
  • grated parmesan
  • freshly ground pepper
  • cooking water from the spaghetti, spoon at a time until the desired consistency

A pesto conversion

For years I’ve been using Stephanie Alexander’s pesto recipe. As it’s the other side of the world, I’m relying on the internet to give me an accurate rendition, but it’s something like this:

  • a big bunch of basil (she says a firmly packed cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts toasted
  • 60g parmesan grated
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil

I don’t add salt and pepper at this stage.

You puree these and mix in some hot water from the cooking pot to thin the consistency.

That’s always done me, I like the balance. But the other day at Bottega Rotolo I got talking to Rosalie Rotolo-Hassan who mentioned that in her cooking classes she’s always modified it by adding a little asparagus and making half the nuts unsalted pistachios, also toasted.

I’ve been dying to try this variant, picked up some of the last asparagus around today and some really ordinary hydroponic basil as I couldn’t find any that had been properly raised. Now we have:

  • a big bunch of basil
  • no garlic because I forgot
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts and raw unsalted pistachios, toasted separately as they need different amounts of time
  • 60g of horribly expensive parmesan because we couldn’t figure out the price until we got home and looked at our receipt and went arrgghhhhhhhhhh
  • 4 asparagus pieces steamed until softish
  • olive oil, but slowly added and not nearly as much as 1/2 a cup

I left out the cheese to be added at the table. I pureed the rest, with maybe a couple of tablespoons of oil to begin with and then added a bit more later. I also added hot cooking water to reach the consistency I wanted.

The asparagus made it creamier and added to the sense that less oil was required compared with usual. Having said that, it’s all to taste of course. I did not in the least miss the garlic – loved the gentle taste of this.

Pepper and parmesan to taste at the table.

Serves two to three – we found that because it didn’t give the usual pesto punch that we added more of it than we usually would.


Spaghetti in fresh herb sauce

Spaghetti in Fresh Herb Sauce. My own concoction

I’m not totally sure about this one, but I’m trying harder to keep records of things that I randomly put together.

While the spaghetti is boiling.


A bunch of basil chopped
Generous quantity of continental parsley chopped
Bacon thinly sliced and chopped
Eggs, sorry, I don’t know how many. Maybe a couple and then decide?
Parmesan cheese grated
Freshly ground black pepper


Fry bacon until crisp, crumble on paper towels, set aside.
Mix the herbs with other ingredients excluding the bacon.
When cooked, mix the spaghetti in with the sauce and heat VERY gently.

Stir bacon through, and leave a little to put on top.

Basillica. Something to do with lots of basil.

Another thing to do with too much basil – I made this up and haven’t made it for ages, so I’m curious as to whether it’s as good as I recall. Report if you try it, please!


pine nuts
a bunch of basil for two people
creme fraiche
cheddar cheese


While the spaghetti is boiling:

Toast pine nuts.

Render the fat from bacon rashers and then fry diced bacon in the fat.

Puree about a bunch of basil leaves with at least 2 large dollops of creme fraiche. Add this to the frying pan. Warm gently.

When pasta is nearing to cooked, add to the sauce some of the cooking liquid. Stir, decide if you have added enough – start with too little, not too much.

While spaghetti is draining, add some grated cheddar to the sauce.

Mix in the spaghetti, thoroughly coat it.

Serve with pine nuts on top.

Basil and tomato: as simple as it gets

I wrote this ages ago….

Are there foods or dishes that made such an impact on you, the very first taste stays with you forever? I was 25 when I first tasted basil. Wow. What a revelation. Not for the first time I regretted my parents’ decision that we weren’t to be raised in an Italian way. I was deprived of basil for TWENTY-FIVE years!! Not fair.

I ate this dish for about a week, breakfast, lunch, dinner. I could do that now. If only I didn’t have to go to the doctor tomorrow morning on an empty stomach. Sigh. 10am. I could be dead of starvation by then.

While the spaghetti is boiling:

Chop tomatoes into slivers, or perhaps small cubes.
Finely chop garlic.
Tear basil leaves with your hands.
Grate parmesan.

All rests on the quality of the ingredients here. Sqiuishily soft, juicy, red as red can be tomatoes. I’ve got lots in the garden at the moment. Best garlic, straight from the ground. Basil that is not – on pain of something truly horrible happening to you, not – hydroponic. I promise, if you compromise here, you will go straight to hell. You won’t even get the chance to explain what on earth you were up to. You will be dispensed posthaste to an eternity in hell. You won’t even die first. You will have the rest of your life and then an eternity of death to ponder the inadequacy of that stuff called hydroponic basil. Ugghhhh.

You do not want to stew this, it’s a summer-sun-warm dish. Generous splash of best olive oil, gently heat to a moderate temperature and add the garlic. The merest hint it is overcooking and take it off the heat. Add tomatoes, heat tenderly. Take off the hotplate. When the spaghetti is close to ready, put sauce back on the heat, add basil, quickly drain spaghetti and toss through.

Serve with parmesan on the side as you might not even want this complication.
Black pepper? Only maybe.

Honestly. If you can’t get the very best of each ingredient for this, just don’t bother.

Oh, and guess what? You’ve become a vegetarian and you didn’t even notice.

Spaghetti with basil and lemon

This is divine, comes from The River Cafe cookbook, and since I don’t have it with me, this is off the top of my head:

While the pasta is cooking….

Chop fresh basil, NOT hydroponic please. Your religious principles may call upon you to tear rather than chop. Grate parmesan, best you can afford. Mix these with best olive oil and add lemon juice slowly to taste as you don’t want to overdo it. You want something about the texture of a wet masala paste. Add more oil, not more lemon juice to get to this stage! A teensy bit of good quality crushed garlic might not hurt. NEVER buy Chinese garlic. It bears no relationship whatsoever to what garlic should be like. You can add salt, but I don’t see the point. The cheese is salty.

That’s it. The pasta, when cooked, is drained and thoroughly mixed with the ‘sauce’. Serve as usual with lashings of freshly ground black pepper. Maybe have more grated parmesan loitering, for the addicts amongst you.

This is the sort of thing that is great to make when you are cooking for one. Easy to do for one and you’ve cooked something you’d be pleased to eat in a restaurant.