Vegan Basil Pesto Using a Mortar and Pestle

My boyfriend gave me a beautiful granite mortar and pestle for my birthday and I’ve been experimenting with it. So today I thought I would share with you one of my all-time favourite uses for it – Basil Pesto! I have always made this with a food processor and never really thought that there would be a difference in taste or texture; boy was I wrong! This pesto had an amazing rich flavour and I hardly needed any oil because the toasted pine nuts release a lovely fragrant oil of their own and using the pestle really allows the juice from the basil leaves to mix everything together nicely.



I had this with pasta but it would also be wonderful spread onto some nice crusty Italian bread with tomatoes or mixed with roasted vegetables for a great entrΓ©e.

Makes: Enough for two people

  • 50 – 60g fresh basil leaves
  • 40g pine nuts
  • 2 small garlic cloves
  • A pinch of coarse sea salt
  • Freshly cracked pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • A squeeze of fresh lemon juice


First, wash the basil leaves well. Now lay them in a single layer on some kitchen/paper towel and let them dry naturally – don’t rub them, it won’t take long! Whilst they are drying, toast the pine nuts over medium heat until lightly golden and you can see that they are releasing oils; you’ll smell it.


Turn the heat off and leave the pine nuts to the side. In your mortar place the two peeled garlic cloves and the then the salt. It’s really best that the salt is coarse as this will help the grinding action of the pestle. Now add in the dried basil leaves a little at a time and work the pestle into them with a circular motion whilst pressing down with the pestle against the sides of the mortar. Keep doing this until you have used all the leaves and you should be left with a dark green mushy mess.


Add to this the pine nuts and continue in the same way, pressing them into the basil and garlic mixture until everything looks creamier. Now add the oil and pepper. The smell is heavenly.


Stir this into hot pasta, spread onto bread for an awesome bruscetta, drop onto hot grilled vegetables, use in a salad dressing…your options are endless!


Buon appetito!


29 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. sophiazerg
    May 17, 2013 @ 12:31:10

    I also have a beautiful mortar and pestle that I’ve used, maybe, once! Good to know – I will definitely try making my pesto in it rather than in the food processor. πŸ™‚ Thanks!


  2. Julie @ Harvest Moon Kitchen
    May 17, 2013 @ 16:51:05

    Beautiful! I’ve been wanting a mortar and pestle so I’m drooling right now… πŸ™‚


  3. Allison (Spontaneous Tomato)
    May 18, 2013 @ 19:36:28

    Beautiful photos! I have a mortar and pestle, but haven’t used it for pesto… I know that’s the real way to do it though… next time I just need a small amount, I will totally try this; thanks for the inspiration! πŸ™‚


    • sammysfood
      May 18, 2013 @ 21:31:50

      Hey Allison! Thanks so much, I’ve just been going over your recipes on your blog and they are amazing! We have a very similar liking for certain cuisines, especially Japanese! I spent some time there on exchange when I was 17, but have forgotten almost all of the language! yes, I totally recommend trying the mortar and pestle for pesto, it’s so good!


      • Allison (Spontaneous Tomato)
        May 18, 2013 @ 21:43:48

        Thanks, Sammy! That’s so cool you got to be an exchange student in Japan when you were that young– it must have been fun to be a student there! (When I lived there I had a full-time job…) What part of Japan were you living in?

    • sammysfood
      May 18, 2013 @ 22:47:05

      Yeah it was so amazing, best trip ever. We flew into Osaka and then travelled for a little bit through Kyoto and stayed for a month in a place called Tsuyama city. It was wonderful to live with a family and I learned so much. Would go back in a heart-beat. And the food…..ohhh the food! Don’t get me started!


      • Allison (Spontaneous Tomato)
        May 18, 2013 @ 23:03:27

        Whoa, you lived in the same prefecture that I did! (I moved from Yamaguchi prefecture and spent two years living in Okayama City, in the south of Okayama prefecture– Tsuyama’s in the northern part.) I’ve probably passed through Tsuyama train station on the way to Tottori, but have never actually been there. So cool that you got to go to Kyoto, too; it’s so beautiful there. And I know… the food!!! Don’t get me started on that either. I am saving up $ to go back for another visit (haven’t been back in a year and a half) but it’s happening painfully slowly…

    • sammysfood
      May 20, 2013 @ 16:20:08

      Wow! What a coincidence! That’s awesome, and yeah, I really need to start saving to go back. It’s such a beautiful country. Happy to have e-met someone else who discovered that! πŸ™‚


  4. Ally
    May 19, 2013 @ 04:51:21

    It has never occurred to me to use my mortar and pestle to make pesto. What a great idea!
    Thanks. πŸ™‚


  5. Thomas
    May 20, 2013 @ 11:47:17

    Hi made a pesto similar to this last night …. Very delicious …;) nice job πŸ˜‰


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  7. Sheila
    May 20, 2013 @ 20:20:55

    your photos are so beautiful! and the food looks delicious as well, obviously πŸ™‚


    • Sheila
      May 20, 2013 @ 20:22:45

      ps- for the action shots (like pouring the oil, washing the spinach, etc.) do you use a tripod? i’ve tried to take shots like this but they always come out really blurry! ugh.


      • sammysfood
        May 20, 2013 @ 21:36:23

        Thanks Sheila! It’s funny that you ask actualy because I’ve been thinking lately about buying a tripod, because at the moment I don’t use one. For the action shots I’m just holding the camera very steady with my right hand as I use my left for pouring etc. It’s very tricky though and I certainly have about one good shot out of 10 blurry ones! I suppose it depends on your camera – I use the Nikon D5000 which has a stabiliser built in with the lens, but this is still not enough if I don’t have really good lighting. I’ll definitely be saving up for a tripod I think πŸ™‚ BTW, you’r photography is awesome as well girl!

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  9. Penniless Veggie
    May 24, 2013 @ 16:28:58

    I seem to have a silly amount of mortars and pestles (how DO you pluralise that anyway?) my fave is a glazed terracotta mortar with a wooden pestle – the mortar has a lip for pouring, great for homemade aioli, herby dressings and suchlike. I also have a larger granite one like yours intended for slightly tougher stuff like grinding woody herbs and nuts (perfect for pesto), but thus far have only used it to crush eggshells! Then I have a small cast iron one for grinding toasted seeds for curry, that one sees a lot of use. I think part of the reason I have so many, apart for different uses, is I’m a charity shop nut, and can’t abide leaving lovely pieces of – often interesting foreign or vintage – kitchenware for others to bag! My Basil is a bit slow growing what with the chilly Spring, but this year I must make pesto in the granite one!


    • sammysfood
      Jun 11, 2013 @ 21:55:09

      Wow! That IS a lot of mortar and pestles (i think that sounds right?!) hahahaha, I also love getting kitchen ware from charity shops. You can find the coolest things! Well yes, I totally recommend using the granite one for pesto, this has become a dinner staple in my home πŸ™‚


  10. Sophie33
    Jun 10, 2013 @ 10:40:46

    I love using my pestle & mortar a lot too, also for making pesto’s! Yuours looks very tasty!


  11. NaturesComplete
    Jul 10, 2013 @ 21:23:08

    No I have decided I need a mortar and pestle. That actually looks like a fun kitchen tool. And that food looks to die for. Thank you for this blog.


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