A word of warning: this is nothing like the sort of pesto that comes in jars from the supermarket. If that's what you like, there's an even chance that you won't like this. That said, there's also an even chance you'll never buy another jar of the stuff again.

For a while now I have had aspirations of becoming a 3-pestle & mortar home, so I went and bought myself a new boxed-up one from the supermarket, expecting it to be roughly the same size as the one I grind my salt in. Instead, when I unboxed it, I realized it only roughly matches the size of the one I use for pepper. Eagle-eyed readers might also notice that the pestle they included is far too large for the mortar. Hey ho.

I considered swapping the salt one for the new one, but then I got to thinking: "What if people only have a small mortar...or they make the same mistake that I did?" It seemed only right that I try making it in the small one, and thank goodness I'm only making two portions of pesto. Even so, it didn't go well, but I've included tips in the method that will help.

You can use ordinary basil for your pesto, but if Tesco ever has any in stock, I often use their Finest Isabella Basil. It has a milder, distinctly aniseed taste to it. One plant would probably provide enough leaves for two portions (sometimes they're VERY small), which seems a little extravagant, but there is a fix. Though it's not worth trying it in winter, in late spring or early summer I often used to buy two or three plants and pot them up into larger pots with good compost, then place them on a sunny windowsill. That's a bit beyond my capabilities these days, so now I simply grow them in the pot they came in. It's a little trickier, and they get a bit leggy. Only water water them when the soil feels dry and the leaves look as if they are about to wilt.

You'll notice I've replaced the traditional pine nuts with walnut pieces. They aren't just more economical; I think they taste brilliant in this. And I don't add any of the pasta water to form a sauce, as so many recipes would have you do. I tried it once. I ended up with watered-down pesto. If you need it to be more sauce-like, add more olive oil.

Makes 2 servings of pasta; 4 if part of a Bennett & Luck style salad.


1/4 clove garlic

a good pinch of sea salt

25g walnut pieces

50 - 60 basil leaves (or the equivalent, if some are on the small side)

25g Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated

olive oil to loosen

160g pasta (I used whole-wheat fusilli for this, but plain spaghetti is quite delicious)



Grind the quarter clove of garlic with the salt. Everything is fine so far.


Add the walnuts and grind them against the sides. The trouble is, the bottom of the bowl isn't wide enough to let even this small quantity move around much and the pestle's too large (thanks, Cole & Mason), so they got stuck and became compacted. Solution: between grinding, use a teaspoon to dig down and break them up.


Add the basil leaves, about ten at a time, and grind them against the sides. Again, everything is getting compacted. Time to dig around with the teaspoon!


Now add the cheese in three or four lots. No grinding here; just work the cheese in with that teaspoon.


Now drizzle in the olive oil and fold it in. This mixture still looks too dry and could do with another good glug or two.


Boil the pasta in salted water till it's exactly how you want to eat it. Since it spends no time sitting around in a tepid sauce cooking in the residual heat, you don't want it underdone. Drain the pasta, pop it back in the pan, add the pesto and stir it through, moistening with a little more olive oil if necessary.


Serve and enjoy!

The verdict on my new pestle & mortar? While it managed to make the pesto (just), I think it is destined for grinding pepper in the future.

Any questions? You can use the comments form at the bottom of the page.

Did you know?

You'll find recipes at the back of all the books in the Send for Octavius Guy series:

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