Making a lunch (a hearty one) out of English pesto, tomatoes, and warm bread

The idea of making a sauce from pounding together garlic, cheese, herbs, nuts and salt; and then thinning it out with olive oil certainly dates back to the Romans, if not before. The Latin root of the word ‘pesto’ means to pound or crush (it’s the same root of the word ‘pestle’ as in pestle and mortar – the mortar is the bowl, and the pestle the thing you use to crush or pound with).

Today the most famous form of pesto is the Genovese form – you can read all about that in this post. In that case the cheese is pecorino; the herb is basil; and the nuts are pine nuts.

But it’s all about using local ingredients these days, and especially if you are lucky enough to have an English garden with a super abundance of herbs, pesto is a brilliant way to use up your superfluity. The Italians sometimes use parsley instead of basil – a book published in 1863 by Giovanni Battista Ratto, La Cuciniera Genovese, mentions parsley – but chives and sage are more northern herbs generally. You can even make a very good pesto with radish leaves.

The genius of this lunch however is the idea of adding the pesto to a lunch of tomatoes and focaccia. I wish I could claim it, but it comes from Pru Leith’s inspiring book, Bliss on Toast. She toasts her focaccia – I just warm mine up with a slurp of olive oil, some salt, and a few additional scattered herbs.

The pesto will keep for a week or so, covered with a film of olive oil, in the fridge.

If you make double quantities you can use it as a dressing for a celery and mozzarella salad – brilliant with chicken, breaded fish, or steak, or over boiled new potatoes.

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