This simplest of kitchen tools is used to crush and grind ingredients such as spices and similar aromatics to make customised herb and spice mixes for all sorts of recipes.
Basic mortar and pestle uses
The mortar is a small bowl accompanied by a small, heavy club, the pestle, used to pound ingredients to release flavours. They are usually made of fairly robust materials, such as the traditional granite mortar and pestle, but ceramic, glass or marble versions are also popular.
Certain ingredients respond best to the gentle crushing or grinding motion of a mortar and pestle, while others need a firmer hand. The essence of whole spices is most easily accessed by grinding them to a powder form with the pestle, but the method can also be used to crush nuts or create flavoursome sauces or dressings. Grind the aromatics with some salt to form a paste, then add the acidic element (usually lemon juice or vinegar) and work gently together. Slowly add the olive oil and combine with the paste until you have reached the best consistency and strength of flavour for your sauce.
Your pestle and mortar should not be washed in a dishwasher but should be gently washed with hot, soapy water and a soft brush, then rinsed and left to air dry.
Mortar and Pestle Pesto
While this traditional Italian sauce is often made in a food processor, using a granite mortar and pestle gives a richer flavour and more rustic texture. Green basil is the standard ingredient but if you can find it, try purple basil for an original twist.
To serve 4:
- 1 small clove of garlic, peeled and chopped
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
- ½ cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1 cup pine nuts
- Good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 lemon quarter
Toast the pine nuts by adding them to a frying pan over a medium heat and tossing regularly. They are done when they start to turn golden brown around the edges.
Place the garlic, a pinch of sea salt and the basil leaves in your mortar and gently grind (you may have to add the basil leaves bit at a time if they don’t fit easily into the bowl all at once). Once these are well combined, grind in the pine nuts.
Add the mixture to a bowl and mix in the Parmesan cheese, then gradually stir in the olive oil until you reach the desired flavour and consistency. Season and add a tiny squeeze of lemon juice.