This month’s issue of La Cucina Italiana has an article on pesto, and recipes for lots of different kinds. When we think of pesto, we normally think of basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and parmesan. Those are the ingredients for the classic pesto, Pesto alla Genovese. But pesto can be made with any number of ingredients. The name ‘pesto’ comes from the tool traditionally used to make it: a pestle (and mortar too). In Italian, the word ‘pesto’ means ‘to pound’, which is what you do with a mortar and pestle.
I use dried tomato pesto in my two pesto pasta, and in Italy we sometimes see other pestos on the menu. Salsa verde is essentially a pesto made with parsley instead of basil.
When I saw a recipe for olive pesto, I was interested. At first, I thought it was simply tapenade, but the only ingredient it has in common with tapenade is olives. OK, olive oil too. But that’s it. Tapenade has capers, anchovies, garlic. This pesto has none of those. Instead, it has olives, pine nuts, mild onion, hot peppers, peccorino. See? It’s not tapenade at all.
I changed the recipe, of course. The one in the magazine had thyme and marjoram in it. I didn’t want the herbs to interfere with the olive flavor. Also, I didn’t have the herbs. If I’d had them, though, I wouldn’t have used them. (That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) I also added pine nuts, because I had them and I wanted their smooth buttery taste to complement the olive flavor. In truth, I think they’re lost in here. Next time, I’ll toast them and fold them in whole for crunch. I added a little parsley to it to lighten the flavor a little as well.
Needless to say, the flavor of this recipe depends totally on the olives. If they’re just blah, the final pesto will be just blah. It’s worth it to search out the best olives you can find for this--the olives are the star here! My olives were a little too salty for me. I generally don’t add a lot of salt when I cook, and we’re not used to a lot of salt. I soaked the olives overnight in cold water to take out some of the salt. I’m glad I did.
This pesto is wonderful as an appetiser on breadsticks, or spread on crostini or just plain melba toast. It’s also great tossed with some pasta. We ate it both ways. I would also spread it on pizza, or on good crusty bread. I might even try it as a filling for ravioli, maybe mixed with some ricotta.
Adapted from La Cucina Italiana
40 green olives (seeds removed)
40 black olives (seeds removed)
1 medium sized hot pepper
2 Tablespoons chopped green onion
3 Tablespoons pine nuts (optional)
1/2 cup grated peccorino
1/2 cup parsley
1/4 - 1/2 cup olive oil
- Chop the hot pepper finely.
- Toast the pine nuts. You can do it in the oven, but I do it in a small skillet over medium heat. It takes about 8-10 minutes. Watch it closely.
- Put the olives, onion, pine nuts, peccorino and parsley in a food processor and pulse till it’s all finely chopped. Taste it. Add the hot pepper a little at a time, until it’s right for you. I can’t tell you how much to add, because it depends on your pepper, your olives, and your personal preference. I like to have enough to feel the afterburn.
- Add enough olive oil to make a smooth-ish paste.
Makes about 2 cups
- I started this in my mortar and pestle, but in the end it wasn’t big enough, so I finished it in my food processor. The texture is a little different than it would have been with the mortar and pestle, but I liked it anyhow.
- To take the seeds out of the olives, I used a trick that I learned in cooking school. I used the bottom of a glass to smash them. Voila! The seeds came out easily. No more laborious cutting around the seed with a paring knife.
- I used a mixture of green and black olives. You can use any mixture you like, of course. Or all green. Or all black. You’re the boss.
- Like all pestos, this one will keep for a long time in the fridge if you make sure that there’s a thin layer of oliver oil over the top.
- I think a little garlic wouldn’t be out of place in this. Next time I’ll add some.
- You can, of course, use parmesan instead of peccorino.
- Oh, yeah, I also didn't have green onion, so I used a little bit of leek.