Pesto is one of those things that is conceptually super simple, but can somehow end up being an overarching term for any green, basil-based condiment. I recently rewatched Salt Fat Acid Heat again, and seeing Samin Nosrat with Lidia, grinding together pine nuts and fresh basil in a mortar and pestle in the mountains of Liguria just got to me. I don’t know if it had something to do with the insane amount of basil I had at the time or not, but it seemed like it was my destiny that day.
I got out the basil, flake sea salt, peppercorns, parmesan and olive oil and got ready to make the ultimate green sauce… and I realized that I don’t make pesto anything like Samin.
Nevertheless, I threw what I had into my little food processor and let the thing go. I tasted it periodically to make sure the balance of everything was right, and realized it was missing something – the citrusy, piney taste from the pignolias. I’ve used juniper berries before in a pinch, but I didn’t have any of those either. Sooo I decided to reach for the only thing I could think of… Gin!
Now, now… before you start thinking I’m an alcoholic or a sinner for spiking my pesto, hear me out – the bite from the juniper, the bright citrus from the lemon peel, the subtle nuances from the black pepper, almond, coriander, licorice and all of the other botanicals made an excellent addition without overpowering anything else. It brightened up the flavors much more than I thought it would, and added depth that I hadn’t thought about.
So don’t knock it ’til you try it!
- 2 1/2c. packed, fresh basil leaves
- 1 tsp flake sea salt, such as Maldon – or to taste
- 1c. fresh grated parmesan or reggiano cheese
- 1/2c. good olive oil
- 1 large, or two small cloves of garlic, peeled; smashed, minced or whole is fine
- 1 – 1 1/2 tbsp gin*
- Place basil, garlic, salt, and pepper into food processor or blender, and give it a few good pulses just to get things started. Add half of the olive oil and blend for 10 seconds until it starts to come together. Add in the grated cheese and pulse a few more times.
- You can choose how you want to put in the rest of the oil and the gin – keeping in mind that it will effect the consistency of the final product.**
- Continue to pulse until your desired consistency is reached.
- Serve on top of pasta, veggies, grilled chicken, as a sauce on pizza, or for pretty much anything else you can think of!
Notes and Variations
*I prefer Bombay Sapphire for most cocktails, so that’s what I have on hand at any given time. If you have a different preference, go for it! Keep in mind though that since pesto is fresh, you will get the flavor profile of whatever gin you use.
**Depending on the order and amount you put in if the remaining oil and the gin, your results can vary quite a bit. So it may take a few trial runs to really nail down your perfect ratio.
I love a strong piney and citrusy pesto, so I added in the gin before the rest of the oil to make sure I got that flavor before thinning it out too much.
If you would like a stronger olive oil flavor, and some more oil before putting in the gin, or halving the gin to keep the desired consistency.