Pesto unmechanized

Did your break?  What, you’re a lowly college student with no blender AND no food processor?  Or, you are experiencing a brown-out but have promised your lady love you’ll make your family’s favorite pasta with pesto?  Have no fear — you can still enjoy pesto, which may be considered as necessary as catsup to kids raised in the nineties when pesto became standard fare in American households.

In an article, printed June 19, 2001, in the “Knowledge Sharing” column, New York Times, advice was given which may help free you from your device-dependence when you get a hankering for pesto —

Cooking Simple: Pesto

Q. Due to reduced circumstances, I am currently faced with preparing my family’s favorite recipes without my usual cooking utensils and appliances. Can someone tell me how to make a good pesto sauce without a food processor or blender? I have a some knives and a cheese grater, but that’s about it. Of course, I have pots and pans, but can it be a delicious sauce with just elbow grease?  [questioner’s name omitted to protect privacy]

A. Pesto was originally made with a mortar and pestle, centuries before there was even electricity. Frequently, when I need a fresh pesto, I use my 6 1/2 pound Thai mortar and pestle to make pesto. If your circumstances preclude the purchase of a good mortar and pestle (about $20) you can even use a stick and a sturdy bowl to mash the ingredients. Incidentally, pesto isn’t always made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesano reggiano and olive oil. I’ve made dozens of variations on the classic basil pesto that have come out fabulously (usually). How about subbing oregano and walnuts for the basil and pine nuts, or cutting back on the basil and adding some mint, or add a little ricotta to the basil pesto for a delicious creamy version, or subbing cilantro for the basil and adding a bit of lime juice, or using thyme and parsley instead of basil- well, the list is almost endless. Pesto is great not just on pasta. Spread it on lightly toasted Italian bread slices, or use it instead of tomato gravy on a pizza, or as an omelet filling, or as a stuffing for roasted tomatoes or mushrooms, or as a main ingredient in chilled cucumber soup, or use the cilantro pesto with some lemon juice and walnut oil as a great dressing for a mixed fruit salad, or as a stuffing for pounded folded chicken breasts. Gosh, the possibilities are endless. There’s so much more than just the old classic basil pesto over pasta. 

Information quoted above, with permission from the author of the response, Bob Sisak.

The following information about “Knowledge Sharing” appears on the NY Times website


Each week, hundreds of people use the knowledge sharing tools of Abuzz to share cooking information and advice.

Knowledge Sharing is a selection of some of the most interesting questions and answers from the past week.

The answers provided represent the personal opinions of individual readers and not the opinions of The New York Times.

If you want to compare recipes for pesto using those mechanical devices known as a “blender” and a “food processor,” double click here on Klocks @ at Home Cookin’ Pesto

You can find this and related recipes by tapping here on the Home Cookin’ index.


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