Cooking without equipment: Pesto

I think it is time to confess. Dear reader, I must admit something… something I have been trying to conceal from you all this time. Here it goes… I don’t own much kitchen equipment. I am so ashamed.

As a chef I am embarrassed to admit that no, I do not own a pestle and mortar, or a casserole dish, or a hand blender, or a food processor (maybe more understandable as they are expensive). For goodness sake, I don’t even own a wok. And this is coming from someone who longingly strokes the pastel coloured Le Creuset cast-iron pans before being dragged out the store while whispering, ‘I’ll be back for you!’

I love kitchen equipment. I have a wish list as long as my arm which include all the essentials I really should own, like a carving fork, juicer and gravy separator, plus beautiful inessentials such as this copper sauté pan and this Magimix food processor (you both will be mine…). Of course, I have some kitchen equipment. Our kitchen is bursting at the seams with saucepans, frying pans, baking dishes, cake tins (lots of cake tins), and a whole range of utensils you’d never think you’d need (we have two pastry brushes, you will always need a pastry brush). But when it comes to imaginative cooking, I’m stumped. I can’t puree, juice, grind, braise, griddle or shred.

As I write this I realise how ridiculous I sound. Why don’t you just go and buy yourself some kitchen equipment already? Yes, why don’t I? A lot of it is due to expense, we have limited space – our narrow galley kitchen doesn’t have a spare shelf let alone room for a large cumbersome food processor – and maybe it’s because I like a challenge?

I’m the kind of home cook who will use her electric beaters to blitz a soup – please don’t try this at home, soup goes everywhere. Although it does create a lovely smooth yet chunky texture. I use a drinking glass to roll pastry or pasta (until I recently bought a rolling pin! Progress!), I puree ingredients like fruits and vegetables with my hands (I told you it gets messy), I grind spices in a bowl with the end of the rolling pin, and if the scales’ battery runs out I attempt to bake by millimetres printed on the measuring jug. It doesn’t always work but I love the experiment.

handmade pesto

A few weeks ago I was raiding the fridge, a regular activity of mine, thinking about dinner. Deciding to cook risotto I noticed we had all the ingredients for homemade pesto. How delicious, I thought, to drizzle fresh pesto over the risotto. Having only prepared pesto with a food processor I was afraid this was all a pipe-dream until I remembered, duh, the sauce was originally made without our new-fangled kitchen equipment. Traditionally, pesto is ground out with a pestle and mortar, which, oh yeah I also don’t own, so thanks to a little research and a handy YouTube video I made pesto by hand.

P.S One dish I am determined to perfect without equipment is ice cream. I am determined to master it in my kitchen full of pastry brushes and saucepans, yet no ice cream maker. Watch this space…

handmade pesto

Handmade fresh pesto

Large bunch of basil
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
A chunk of parmesan
Pine nuts
Olive oil

  1. Gather your ingredients – peel the garlic and prepare a fine grater for the parmesan. Grab a chopping board and start roughly chopping the basil.
  2. Add a small handful of pine nuts and keep chopping.
  3. And half a clove of garlic – be careful, too much is overpowering – and keep chopping.
  4. Add a good grating of parmesan and a small drizzle of olive oil and keep chopping. Your knife is the food processor’s blade and as you chop you incorporate all the ingredients.
  5. Taste and add a little more of each ingredient as necessary.
  6. Add more olive oil and use your knife blade to blend the pesto together until you reach your desired consistency.
  7. Season with a little salt and pepper.
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