My old mortar and pestle broke awhile ago and I didn't replace it. But when I started this recipe collection, I had an overwhelming desire to buy a really good one and get back to making the crackerjack spice blends I did when I was cheffing. As well as dynamite pestos. There's nothing like the texture of a pesto made in a mortar and pestle. It's gritty, grainy, and devinely delish. Of course, you can do it in a food processor too. But using a mortar and pestle is so primal as it's probably one of the earliest culinary tools every invented and exists in some form in almost every cuisine.
This recipe calls for basil. But when I visited my farmer's market last week, I found that basil was out of season. Arugula makes a great substitute, as do other fresh herbs. And I'd vary the nuts for different flavors also. You can freeze a bunch in ice cube trays for quick meals as you can use it on pasta or grains, in soups, and as a dressing or dip. Drizzle some olive oil over each "cube" to keep them from browning, cover with plastic, then pop out the frozen cubes and store in zip-loc bags.
So I bought this book, Alchemy of the Mortar and Pestle, which is Volume One of The Culinary Library, and it tells you the whole history of the early tool as well as breaking down the process, which I found invaluable. The book reminded me that: a) driest ingredients go first, b) moist ones next, c) oily ones next, d) wet ones next, and finally e) taste and add salt if needed. And don't worry if what you make isn't perfect. As the book says, "I'm sure the Veda masters' complex mortar and pestle recipes for regaining a lost emperorship didn't work every time." And then there's always the food processor. Oh ... and it's gluten-free too!
By Jill Place