Well, how do I begin to describe my love for pesto? The smell of the basil, the slight grittiness of the parmesan, the smoky creaminess of the toasted pine nuts. It seems such a miraculous harmony of delicious ingredients. I would go as far to say it’s my favourite food. Savoury food that is – my favourite pudding is a whole other (lengthy) conversation.
I make pesto relatively regularly, and yet this is the first time I’ve actually measured the ingredients before throwing them in. Usually I just add things bit by bit until it tastes like it has the right balance – and I always need to make more than I need because all of these ‘tastes’ are, inevitably, large spoonfuls. This meal, of pasta with pesto and pancetta (or bacon), is both my default comfort food and my default quick, easy yet impressive dinner party food.
As I was taking photos of a dish so dear to my heart, I decided to trawl the local charity shops to find a suitable plate on which to show if off. I found this retro, fluted triumph at a very unassuming charity shop for a very reasonable £1.50. It’s the sort of plate that would have once been a proud member of a set to grace a dinner table back in the day, but now has been discarded in favour of more minimal, neutral patterns. However, it works perfectly for this dish, as the red patterning complements the bright green of the pesto.
For the pesto:
2 large handfuls of basil leaves (one whole plant’s worth)
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove
60g pine nuts
120g linguine or spaghetti
160g pancetta or bacon lardons
First, make the pesto. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until just starting to brown (about 2 minutes). Put the basil, olive oil and garlic in a food processor or the bowl of a hand blender, and whizz until blended. Add half of the pine nuts and all of the parmesan, and blend again. Stir in the rest of the pine nuts.
Cook the pasta in plenty of boiling water until ‘al dente’ (about 7 minutes). While the pasta is cooking, fry the pancetta until golden brown and crisp. Drain the pasta, and top with a dollop of pesto (or you can stir it through), and the pancetta. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.