But there's definitely something special about making pesto with an old school mortar and pestle: a softness to these otherwise strong, pungent flavors that you can't get with a blender... a slower integration and smoother, silkier texture to the pesto... more of a natural sweetness from the garlic.
More importantly, making the pesto with a mortar and pestle engages all of your senses and connects you to the ingredients and how they come together. You actually breathe in the sweet aroma of fresh basil, see the way the texture of the salt helps break down the raw garlic, and understand how crushing the pine nuts into a thick paste releases the oils that help emulsify and integrate the garlic to the basil. The 15 minutes of effort is well worth the end result, which can be transcendent.
2 tightly packed cups of fresh, unblemished basil leaves (stems removed)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
pinch of kosher salt
Using a mortar and pestle, crush the garlic and a pinch of kosher salt together until a paste is formed. Chop the basil into a rough chiffonade---don't chop the basil too finely, because you want to do most of the crushing and pulverizing with the mortar and pestle. Add the pine nuts and a small handful of the basil to the mortar and crush together with the garlic to form a fine paste. Add the remaining basil and continue crushing until well integrated. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, stirring constantly. Add the parmigiano-reggiano and stir to combine.