Recipe: Deconstructed pesto


I’m in the market for quick and nutritious meals at the moment, thanks to the work situation and persevering with Slimming World. The latter would probably clobber pesto with a bazillion syns, but it has to count for perhaps one of the quickest meals on the planet.

At its best, pesto looks vibrant and tastes fresh and zingy. At its worst, it comes across as a sludgy oily gloop. I think I’ve tasted every supermarket brand, plus most of the ones that come in jars (organic labels are no guarantee of quality), and with one exception I wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole. They tend to taste of nothing in particular.

And I’m not overly enthusiastic about variations on the theme either – I’m a purist and like my pesto to have basil, pine nuts and parmesan in. Permutations of spinach, coriander, mint, parsley and pecorino don’t do it for me.

The parmesan is obviously an issue for those of us who are strict vegetarians. And I’m not brave enough to try vegan substitutes – life is too short and all of that … I have to admit that decent parmesan is the one thing I miss, although the Bookhams vegetarian cheese for pasta is probably as good as we’re going to get.  It does, though, lack that distinctive salty tang that makes real parmesan so irresistible.

That one shop-bought exception, by the way, is the Waitrose green pesto, and it’s pretty damn good, although it’s a bit heavy on the oil. You can see the pine nuts in it. And you can taste the basil and the cheese. Forget their red chilli pesto (which, sadly, comes packaged in a trio with two single portions of the green pesto and which is brilliant to chuck in the freezer for emergencies) as all you get is a lingering after-burn and a vague taste of greasy tomato.

Yes, I could make my own pesto, but my blender has just rolled over and died – and cleaning gunged-up kitchen equipment isn’t high on my list of pleasures, especially when I’m packaging this blog entry as fast food. And anyway, I can recommend a cunning make-your-own version which simply requires one pan to be wiped clean.

This little gem is a deconstructed pesto where you can taste every single element of what goes into it. And you can make it in the last few minutes while the pasta cooks. It’s obviously a lot dryer than conventional pesto, but there’s no over-powering taste of oil to it. And you can vary the amounts depending on what you prefer – I tend to up the amount of lemon zest. Slimming World won’t like the pine nuts or dessertspoon of olive oil to warm the garlic in, but I’d rather take the hit on syns than leave out the former (and I am always woefully low on protein) or substitute the latter. This is a dish where you want good ingredients.

Pasta (farfalle is good, as it won’t overpower the different elements)


Pine nuts

Lemon zest and lemon juice


Veggie parmesan

While the pasta is cooking, toast a small handful of pine nuts in a dry pan. Then add a dribble of olive oil to the hot pan and warm the crushed garlic through. Don’t let it colour. I use a clove per person. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and mix in the pinenuts, garlic, the zest and juice of half a lemon and a large handful of basil. I don’t add salt, but I do grind some black pepper over it. Then grate the veggie parmesan over the top.

I can’t remember where the recipe came from – I’ve a feeling it was from one of the female chefs in the BBC Good Food magazine. But it’s a keeper and I make it constantly …

2 responses »

  1. I heard a rumour on the writing course that there might be a veggie version of Parmesan coming out. I hope so, I really miss it. I still quite like ‘pesto’ without the cheese.

    • Oh, I hope that rumour’s true! The two things that stop me going completely vegan are pasta cheese, and butter. The Bookham’s one is OK but it’s not really parmesan as we know it, Jim.

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