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.
English Pesto (ie with parsley!)
Serves – 2
- 50g/2 oz parsley
- 50g/2 oz chives
- 50g/2 oz sage (well…. Not quite so much of this, it can overpower)
- 50g/2 oz hard cheese, eg cheddar
- 25g/1 oz walnuts
- 25g/1 oz almonds
- 1 fat clove garlic, peeled and crushed with a pinch or so of salt
- Few grinds of black pepper, or a pinch of Urfa pepper flakes
- 80 ml/⅓ cup rapeseed oil
- 135g/5 oz piece of focaccia
- 1 large (eg beef) and one less large tomato
- Balsamic vinegar
- Olive oil
- Preheat the oven to 210°
- Core and slice the tomatoes and sprinkle with a little salt and balsamic vinegar.
- Dry fry the nuts.
- Roughly chop through the stems of the parsley to ensure they don’t go stringy in the chopper.
- Roughly chop the cheese.
- Put the first eight ingredients into an electric chopper/mini-blender. Chop.
- Slowly add the oil. Check the seasoning. Put in a pretty bowl, and set aside.
- Put the bread on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and add a sprinkling of salt, and wam in the oven for not more than five minutes.
- There may be a little separated oil from the pesto – pour this over the tomatoes.
- Serve the warm bread with the tomatoes and the pesto.