Top 8 pesto sauces tested

Fresh basil is now in the shops and makes a terrific sauce with pasta, says Roz Crowley.

Originating in Liguria where all the basic ingredients of the most famous one, Pesto alla Genovese, are located, there are regional variations called pesto with their own descriptive names.

Fresh basil is the first ingredient of the Genovese one and nuts are used to add a creamy texture. I have experimented with all types of nuts. 

The least successful were hazelnuts which were a bit too brittle, but walnuts and cashews were good, with almonds less creamy.

Creaminess is also added with cheese, and the best are the traditional Parmesan (Parmiggiano Reggiano) cheese, sometimes Sardo from Sardinia or Pecorino, a hard ewe’s cheese. A little garlic adds depth and does not dominate the flavour.

At home we can use seasonal leaves instead of basil — wild garlic leaves and parsley are excellent. Extra virgin olive oil works best.

A heaped tablespoon of pesto can deliver about 150 calories. Tasting light and interesting, it is easy to over-indulge, so measure it out and put the rest away.

I use on the side with fish, in salads and to rescue any dull dish. Put a layer of oil on top of your homemade pesto in a jar and it will keep for six months. 

Buy the basil when you see it at its best. 

The Real Olive Fresh Pesto 200g €5.20 (€2.60/100g)

The short list of ingredients sing in this fairly chunky pesto. Fresh basil is blended with Parmesan made with raw milk and cashew nuts, Spanish extra virgin olive oil, a little garlic and salt. 

A couple of teaspoons added to a green salad will turn it into a feast. Delicious on a salad of celery and carrot, too. All tasters wanted more. From Real Olive stalls in weekly markets countrywide and Cork’s English Market.

Score: 9.5

Aldi Specially Selected Pesto Rosso 190g €1.19 (63c/100g)

A very good tomato flavour comes from a combination of tomato paste, fresh and sundried tomatoes with a hint to cayenne which gives it a lift. 

Traditional cheeses give this an authentic taste useful for pasta, bruschette and rescuing all sorts of dishes. Good price.

Score: 8

Iago Sundried Tomato and Mint Pesto €6.62 (€4.30/100g)

This dense paste looks quite dark, but that is natural. The intense tomato flavour goes a long way, and the addition of fresh mint is very good and lifts it into summer. 

A good one for pasta, you will need little else but a light grating of cheese. From the beautiful shop on Prince’s Street, Cork.

Score: 9

Pascali Red Pesto Alla Genovese 190g €2.30 (€1.21/100g)

The unusual addition of courgette does little to dilute the fresh flavour of tomatoes. 

While tomato dominates, there is enough Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese, basil and cashew nuts, salt and garlic for a balanced flavour, with just acidity regulator lactic acid added to preserve. From Mr Bell’s English Market Cork and elsewhere.

Score: 7

Sheridans Organic Pumpkin Pesto 130g €4.50 (€3.46/100g)

Made in Alba, Italy, from mainly pumpkin, sunflower oil, cashew nuts, red peppers, carrots and extra virgin olive oil, this is a light, plump mixture which tastes of all its ingredients. Evenly blended, it has a semi-rough, interesting texture. 

Good for bruschetta and, for the adventurous, filling ravioli. Try a blob to finish soups or add to the end of a stir fry for texture. In shops and on line at sheridanscheesemongers.com

Score: 8

Marks & Spencer Red Pesto 190g €3.30 (€1.74/100g)

Tomato purée, extra virgin olive oil, basil, Pecorino Romano cheese, cashew nuts and some pine kernels, sundried tomatoes and red peppers. Nicely pulpy, it is ideal as a rich sauce

for pasta and bruschetta. The sauce has some stringy, stalky bits that take away from it.

Score: 6.75

Glanmire Basil Pesto 180g €3.50 (€1.94/100g)

Fresh basil is blended with less traditional sunflower oil and some extra virgin olive oil. Traditional Parmesan and Pecorino Romano cheeses are used with salt and garlic. 

The thick texture comes not from the almonds, but added skimmed milk and whey powders. A good product from Cork. From speciality shops, I bought it at the interesting and comprehensive Village Greengrocer, Castlemartyr.

Score: 8

Delitaly Pesto Alla Genovese 200g €5.98 (€2.99/100g)

This fresh, aromatic pesto has all traditional Italian ingredients and no more. Fresh basil is lively, Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses, pine nuts, salt and extra virgin olive oil make a fairly liquid mix. 

Ideal for pasta and to drizzle over salads. Loved by all tasters.Delitaly is on Princes Street, Cork and the pesto is also in Boots Italian Grocery Store, Forge Hill, Cork.

Score: 9

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