I bought pesto, angry-cherwell

I bought pesto, angry-cherwell

I may be a food editor, but I’m not a great cook. My staples are Tesco meal, tinned tomato soup, and crackers with some variation in fat. What I was thinking when I decided to buy the ridiculously expensive truffle pesto in Italy is…not as much of a mystery as I’d like to pretend it is. I was in the middle of a day of wine tasting (minus the spittoon), and was lured with free samples of everything from cookies to chocolate to pesto at the end. It stayed in my bag for two weeks while I traveled, before I brought it to college where it sat in my closet for a month as I decided how best to use it.

Fortunately, I live with Jack, a second-year university doctor who has spent the past few years working as a chef. When he’s not writing an article, he’s usually preparing something weird I haven’t heard of. Unlike me, he really enjoys being in the kitchen and was quite happy to take responsibility for the small €16 jar of pesto. His idea was to make his own pesto and compare the two in terms of quality and price, which I can’t help but think would be embarrassing for me and the (drunk) retail options.

His immediate recommendations included buying ingredients that match the quality of the pesto, which meant not buying the cheapest ingredients I could find, but focusing on more than the unit price. I decided the best way to do this was to ask him to do the shopping, with the promise of payment, and after a quick trip to Tesco, he was cooking – or rather grinding – to an Eminem song without me.

Jack had many ideas for dishes incorporating pesto, from pizza to steak sandwiches, but settled on the students’ classic pesto pasta. The beginning of this process was to grind the garlic and salt together to the desired consistency in a pestle and mortar (or in a blender for those without the muscle/energy), before lightly roasting the pine nuts to extract their flavour. Next, all of these ingredients, and the basil, were added to the pestle and mortar, and ground to a “pesto-like paste” (I asked, but there was no further clarification). Then grate the Parmesan and mix using a pestle and mortar, until a lighter color appears, and add the olive oil to create the desired consistency.

When I finished it, I tasted it. The freshness and quality of the home-made produce was much better than the store-bought ones, for as little as £2. All that’s left to do is compare it to the €16 (£13.96) pesto I brought back from Italy. My pesto had a strong taste for its main ingredient, truffle, though it had difficulty sticking to the pasta and was largely lost, and any touch of basil or walnuts was hidden in the relatively thin sauce. It’s definitely difficult to balance the umami flavor (or so I’ve been told), and frankly it was more interesting to eat than comforting or enjoyable. The Pesto Jack, on the other hand, was creamier—indicating that it contained more Parmesan—and made for a rich dish that I’d happily eat any day of the week. It was thicker and covered the pasta well, although it was noticeably plain compared to the depths of the truffle.

Overall, given the huge gap in price difference, Pesto Jack is the clear winner. Cheap, easy to make and still delicious to eat, I couldn’t help but wonder what I was thinking, spending so much on so little. My truffle sauce had one quality: it was unique compared to everything else in our apartment. As an occasional treat, to enhance a classic dish and change up the usual routine, it was a perfect fit. But if I were given a choice between the two on a daily basis, regardless of the price, I would choose the creamy, comforting option every time.

If the quantities in the recipe seem vague, it’s because Jack has produced this pesto that measures each ingredient from memory, with an ease and familiarity derived from years of love for his craft. I could only watch in admiration and gratitude that I had the opportunity to benefit from his skill. For anyone with a similar love of food, I highly recommend exploring ingredients and techniques in the kitchen, or alternatively, as I did, befriending a chef.

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