Two Great Loves: Pesto and Bocconcini

I recently did a week-long vegetarian stint so that’s the reason for the multiple vegetarian dishes. I much prefer being vegetarian in Australia than in Malaysia. The fresh produce here is just so beautiful.

I’ve developed a new habit of going to the market every Sunday morning. I sit down with a few recipe books or food magazines on Saturday night and plan my menu for the week and write down a shopping list. This is really important for me because it makes me focus on the things I know I will make. I get distracted by the sight and scent of gorgeous produce and sometimes I get carried away. I’d end up with a heavily stocked fridge and no clue how to use up all the produce before it goes bad. Since I’ve adopted this more logical exercise, my produce dwindles down to almost zero by Sunday so I fell all right about hitting the market. I love doing this too because I want to avoid buying anything from the supermarket. It’s expensive, the produce isn’t as fresh and it takes away from the experience of shopping for your food. Now I’m only in the supermarket for cleaning products and the occasional tin of tuna or dried pasta. I haven’t yet mustered up the courage to try making pasta from scratch. I want to, though I have no clue if I have the space to dry them…

One of the things I always make when I go vegetarian is pesto. It’s great for a quick snack with toast or for an easy meal with some pasta. I first tried pesto when my brother made it from scratch many years ago and I fell madly in love with it. I’ve tried some bottled varieties in the supermarket but they never live up to their fancy description of ingredients so I just steer clear away now knowing that anything I buy will be inferior to the tried and tested recipe that I’ve perfected over the years.

Pesto Pasta Salad

Pesto Pasta Salad

The recipe I use is the same one I first tasted when my brother made it for me all those years ago, and if I’m not mistaken, he snitched it from a Gordon Ramsey cookbook, although exactly which I can’t ascertain. It is fantastic and I can’t insist enough that everyone try this at least once because it’ll put you off the bottled versions in the supermarket forever.

This recipe uses basil and pine nuts, and I know there are other versions with other herbs and nuts like parsley or spinach or cashews but I do enjoy the scent of basil a whole lot more than the other alternatives.

Classic Pesto
adapted from some cookbook of Gordon Ramsey’s

50 g pine nuts
70 g fresh basil leaves, plucked from the stems, washed and dried
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
50 g Parmesan cheese
125 ml extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Fry the pine nuts in a pan (with no oil) until slightly brown. Remove from heat and leave to cool.

2. Place pine nuts in a blender with basil, garlic and Parmesan. Blitz to combine.

3. Scrape down the sides. With the machine running, add in the oil slowly. Scrape down occasionally. (I don’t have a machine that has an accessible open top that I can open while it’s running so I just dump the oil in batches)

4. Taste and check for seasoning, add salt and pepper according to your preference. I usually add only a teeny tiny bit of salt (the Parmesan salts it enough) but I do go heavy on the black pepper because that’s the way I like it.

5. Dump in bin and go to bed. This was what my brother e-mailed to me many years ago. I hadn’t noticed until I was making the pesto and pissed myself laughing for ages after. He’s a prankster, that one!

Pesto Pasta Salad

To make the really simple, really easy Pesto Pasta Salad in the photographs, I’m not even going to bother giving you a recipe. All you need is some pesto, a handful of cherry tomatoes, a few balls of bocconcini cheese, and some fresh mushrooms. Boil some pasta, saute the mushrooms with a little salt and pepper. Dump the cooked pasta in a bowl, add a tablespoon of pesto per individual serving, mix it up so it coats all the pasta. Add in the mushrooms and tomatoes and shredded bocconcini. Season with a little salt and pepper if you feel like it (I personally didn’t find a need for it). DIG IN!

I feel the need to express my undying love for bocconcini for a moment. I have a massive savoury fang, even though I love making desserts (this shocks people a lot). I’m not the kind of person who would choose dessert over a main course. That’s just crazy talk! One of my biggest savoury delights is cheese and while I enjoy cheese, I can’t handle eating camembert and brie or even blue cheese too often. I can take them in small doses but I have to be very light handed with them or they gross me out and put me off a dish. However when it comes to my two greatest cheese loves: fresh mozzarella and bocconcini, I would sing a different tune. I especially love buffalo mozzarella (which I’m told is the larger version of bocconcini) although I am convinced buffalo mozzarella has a stronger taste. Or maybe I’m hallucinating.

Bocconcini has the loveliest, fluffiest texture; it’s the right amount of chewiness and the taste! Oh the taste! It’s really mild and it absorbs the flavour of whatever it is served with but I have been known to munch on a plain bocconcini ball. They’re a very subtle, joyous party in my mouth. I could eat bocconcini daily and wouldn’t utter a single word of complaint – there’s no such thing as too much bocconcini in my book.