Parsley Pesto Made in a Marble Mortar and Pestle
Using the traditional Italian method in a marble mortar with a wood pestle, we create a vibrant flavorful, oil-free vegan parsley pesto. What’s the Secret ingredient?
Why Use a Marble Mortar & Pestle to make Parsley Pesto?
The marble mortar and pestle is where beauty and function collide. The wood pestle against the marble surface makes the perfect contact for extracting flavor by releasing the essential oils from herbs and nuts. Marble is softer than granite and the wood pestle is lighter in weight than a granite pestle, so the motion is more press and rotate. This method makes the smoothest garlic emulsion. Using a mortar and pestle is fun as a break from electrical appliances and for those of us who like to work with our hands.
If you have just gotten a new marble mortar and pestle it will need to be prepared for its first use. New marble mortars will have some residual powder or grit form the manufacturing process. See this post which explains how to prepare the mortar and includes an instructional video: How to Prepare a New Marble Mortar for Its First Use
Parsley for Pesto
Native to the Central Mediterranean region, parsley is one of the most ubiquitous culinary herbs used around the world. Parsley tastes a little peppery and has a slight menthol taste. Parsley leaves, when cut up or crushed, unlike basil, stay green which means the pesto presents well for a few days.
The star of this pesto is the parsley. The fresher the parsley, the more vibrant and flavorful your pesto will be. Italian parsley, sometimes called flat-leaf parsley or Italian flat-leaf parsley is the choice for parsley pesto. The curly-leaf parsley is not well-suited for pesto. Sourcing from your own garden or from a local Farmers market is ideal. Otherwise getting from a grocery store with high turnover will do too. When selecting, look for skinny stems and bright dark green and tender leaves.
Stems of parsley are often discarded. In this pesto we use the stems. Parsley stems have a different taste than the leaves. The stems usually have a vegetal sweetness which adds to the depth of the pesto flavor. Stems, however, can be fibrous. The thicker the stem the more fibrous it is. To avoid the stringy texture, we cut 2–3 inches off the stem stalks where the stems become more tender, then cut the stems crosswise in to 1/8in (3–4mm) pieces.
Parsley pairs perfectly with garlic. My mother used to say “when you use garlic always add parsley”. And so … I do. She said the parsley brightens a dish and keeps our breath fresh.
Pumpkin seeds have a delicious flavor on their own which makes these seeds a good choice for pesto. I like using the pumpkin seeds raw or sprouted (also raw) for pesto to get the authentic flavor of the seed and because there is more moisture than the roasted version. Sprouted pumpkin seeds are a little easier to crush into a paste as they have more moisture than even the plain raw.
Garlic adds that pungent and savory part. As much as many of us love garlic, it can easily overpower the herbal flavor of the parsley. A little garlic goes a long way in this pesto. Generally two small cloves is about right, but if the garlic is super strong or large, one clove will do. It’s good to remove germ inside as it is often bitter; the greener the germ the more bitter it is. Removing the germ is always a good idea for raw applications.
Garlic found fresh in the Spring from your garden or the Farmers market is usually milder and has more moisture and really good in pesto. This will make it so no additional or less water is needed and will taste great and achieve good consistency.
Finally the secret ingredient. Castelvetrano olives are the secret ingredient that brings this pesto together. The olives enhance the flavor rather than masking it like plain olive oil does. Green Castelvetrano olives specifically are perfect for this oil-free vegan parsley pesto as they add creaminess, some saltiness and good consistency. Castelvetrano olives with their pits is a better choice for this pesto than pre-pitted olives which tend to be too briny and not creamy enough for pesto.
The Finished Parsley Pesto
This vibrant oil-free vegan parsley pesto is delicious on toasted bread, warmed through with blanched green beans, grilled vegetables and as a topper for soups and pizza. Parsley pesto is at its most flavorful raw or just warmed through by the heat of the green beans or the toasted bread. Too high heat or prolonged will reduce the taste considerably.
Tools Used in this Recipe
- 1 Marble Mortar and Wood Pestle
- 1 Kitchen Towel
- 1 Chef Knife
- 1 Pairing Knife
- 4 small bowls optional, for prepped ingredients
- 6–10 Flat-leaf Parsley Stalks with leaves enough to make 1 cup of chopped parsley
- 1–2 Garlic cloves
- 6 Castelvetrano olives
- 1/4 cup Sprouted or plain raw
- 1/8 tsp Coarse salt
- 1–3 Tbls Water
Prep the Ingredients for the Mortar
- Parsley: separate the parsley stems from the leaves. Cut the first 2–3 inches (4–6 cm) off from the stem stalks, then cut the stems crosswise into 1/8in (3–4mm) pieces. Roll up the leaves and chop up roughly.
- Garlic: Peel the garlic, remove the germ inside the center of the clove.
- Olives: lightly bash the olives with a pounder or side of knife to release the pits, then remove the pits from the olives.
- Pumpkin Seeds: Place 1/4 cup of raw or sprouted pumpkin seeds in a small bowl and set aside.
Mortar & Pestle
- Add the garlic and salt to the mortar and start crushing the garlic. Break up the garlic with the pestle, then press and rotate the pestle on the garlic. Continue until the garlic is pretty smooth and starts to release from the mortar.
- Push the garlic from the bottom of the mortar to the sides. Add in the olives to the mortar bottom, one at a time. Break up with the pestle, then continue crushing by pressing the pestle and rotating on the olive.
- Push the mixture from the mortar bottom to the side and add in a few pumpkin seeds and crush as noted above. The seeds may need a little more “banging’ with the pestle as opposed to pressing and rotating. Continue adding and crushing the seeds until pretty smooth.
- Push the mixture to the mortar sides and add in the parsley stems a bit a t a time and crush, then add in the parsley leaves and use the press and rotate method. This will help release the flavorful essential oils that give this pesto its vibrancy.
- If the pesto is too thick (not spreadable) add in water a teaspoon at a time, blend in with the pestle and add more water if needed up to about 2 tablespoons should do it.
- This recipe makes 1/2 cup. Place in a small glass or ceramic container, put a date on the jar. Use right away or store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months.