Mortar & Pestle Ground Pesto

I’ve made pesto in a food processor before, but nearly incomparable to fresh hand-chopped and ground pesto. The aroma’s invigorating, the taste is happily intense, plus there’s the satisfaction of creating something delicious without a machine to impede on the process. Try it sometime – you’ll understand.

I’ve read about various methods for preparing pesto:  all food processor or blender, all hand-chopping, all mortar and pestle ground, and the way I did it – partially with mortar and pestle, partially by hand-chopping.

This recipe doesn’t yield a lot of pesto, but you can easily double or triple the ingredients to make more.  Simply work it in small batches with the mortar, unless you’ve got one large enough to do bigger quantities. I also used sea salt, forgetting momentarily, just how salty cheese can be on its own. Next time, I’d omit the salt all together and rely fully on the cheese for the pesto’s saltiness.  If using the sauce on pasta though, make sure to salt the pasta water while cooking. The pesto will keep for a while in the refrigerator, but for best results use immediately after it’s made.

Homemade Basil Pesto


2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 small handful of raw pine nuts (approximately ¼ cup)
1-1½ tsp. black peppercorns
2 tbsp. olive oil
1/3 cup grated (not shredded) parmesan cheese
¼ tsp. sea salt (OPTIONAL)


Set aside about half of the sliced garlic, basil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese.

Grind the peppercorns in the mortar until very fine. Add in the remaining half of your sliced garlic, basil, and pine nuts.  Using the pestle, grind into the peppercorns until the basil has been nicely broken down.

Add in the non-reserved portion of parmesan cheese and 1 tbsp. of olive oil.  Use the pestle to incorporate into the mortar’s contents. Grind until you have a slightly coarse mixture. Set aside.

On a cutting board, start chopping the reserved garlic and about half of the basil.  Add in the remaining basil and continue chopping. Scrape, chop, scrape, chop. Continue until the mixture’s finely minced. Add in the reserved pine nuts and  chop, chop, chop. Add in the reserved cheese – and – wait for it – chop. Chop, chop.  Keep chopping until all the ingredients can be pressed together into a “cake” that keeps its shape without any help.  Once you reached this point, take the chopped ingredients and add them to the mortar.  Use the pestle to mix all the ingredients together.

Transfer to the bowl you’d like to serve the pesto in, or store it in, and drizzle the top with your remaining 1 tbsp. of olive oil.  When ready to use, simply stir to incorporate the oil.


About Julie Hashimoto-McCreery

28 year old food blogger and writer.
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2 Responses to Mortar & Pestle Ground Pesto

  1. Pingback: Cashew Basil Pesto | Forbidden Rice Blog

  2. Pingback: Little Pastas with Seitan, Herbs and Cheese | Forbidden Rice Blog

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