burnt toast

Category: Pastes and Pestos



I don’t know about you, but at one point or another in life, I have found myself strangely enamored with a specific type of food, from not being able to live without it to not ever wanting to be in its presence again, preparing my addictive personality for my next edible victim. One such addiction was home brand spearmint chewing gum, which you could buy in 100g bags from the local Migros in Bern. Too easy. Next up were the sugar free elderflower ricola lollies. I still can’t look them in the face. Too much sugar free guilt there. Then came the harissa craze. Harissa on salad, in soups, on pizza, and most importantly on things that didn’t yet taste of harissa. After moving to Australia I went on a fruit yoghurt trip, the after effects of which have surprisingly not deemed me lactose intolerant. My voyage of fanatic enthusiasm ended with nougat, and I am happy to say that today I am addiction free.

If you don’t count chocolate.

In the meantime, my taste for harissa has come back, and I suggest you get your paws onto a jar of it as soon as you can. However, I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it, as we all know flavor and quality varies from place to place.

You know where this is leading to don’t you.

I’m being serious. This home made version is the best I have ever tasted, so it seems a waste to just keep it to myself. Lets share.

harissa 2


This makes quite a bit, so I suggest you fill it into little jars to take with you to barbeques and picnics or other harissa lacking situations. Also, it will keep for about 5 days in the fridge, a little longer if you cover the surface with some olive oil.

1 bulb of garlic

1 large red capsicum

5 large red chillies, plus extra chilli flakes, to taste

3 tsp cumin seeds

3 tsp caraway seeds

100ml tomato passata

1 Tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp salt, to taste

1 tsp sugar

50ml olive oil, plus more for covering

Preheat your oven to 200°C. Cut the garlic bulb in half and wrap each half in tin foil. Place on a baking tray together with the chillies. And the quartered and deseed capsicum.  Throw the tray into the oven and roast until the chillies and the capsicum start going black in places, after about 20 minutes. The chillies will probably be done before the capsicum, so remove them from the oven while the rest keeps doing its thing. You can check if the garlic is done by poking it to see if it’s soft. Everything done? Great. Get it out of the oven.

You know how most recipes go “place in a bowl and cover with cling wrap for a few minutes to enable peeling the capsicum”? Rubbish in my opinion. Just let it cool. Once the capsicum and chillies are cool enough, peel off their skin. Halve the chillies and scrape out the seeds and flesh. Unwrap the garlic and squeeze the soft cloves into the bowl as well.

Toast the cumin and caraway seeds in a fry pan until they smell nice, then transfer to a mortar and grind them to a powder.

Transfer the ground spices, the passata, the tomato paste, salt, sugar and oil into your bowl and give the lot a nice whizz with your hand held blender. Give it a taste and adjust the saltiness / sweetness / spiciness. Once it’s smooth and tastes the way you like it, transfer it into a large jar and cover with oil.


Pesto rosso

pesto rosso

I love Saturdays. Maybe not quite as much as Fridays, but they’re very close. Growing up in Switzerland, my family and I would always go to the markets on Saturdays. The vendors would give me olives to sample, or a morsel of cheese, and little cups of home made cordial. Such bliss. There’s no way you’d be able to get a loaf of bread to stay crunchy for more of a couple of hours in this ridiculously humid climate here in Australia. The cheese would be kidnapped by an army of flies before it would have time to go off in the sweltering summer heat. Aah, I’m being too harsh. I love you both, my two homes. What one place lacks, the other has plenty of, tearing me back and forth, making it difficult to decide if I could ever live in the one place forever…

Let’s get back to business. One of our favourite buys on Saturday mornings was the pesto rosso we’d get from a friend’s shop. We’d eat that deliciousness with cheese, on bread, with maybe a few sliced picked cucumbers. It never occurred to me I could make it myself until I stumbled across it on this gem of a site, The Traveller’s Lunchbox. Pestos should always be made at home anyway. You save yourself money and disappointment. Which is a pretty good deal in my opinion. Get pestoing. And give your mother some. She’d love that.

 Pesto Rosso

20 semi dried tomato halves

80g grated parmesan

80g roasted walnuts, roughly chopped

2 medium rosemary sprigs, picked and chopped finely

3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

½ tsp salt

2 tsp balsamic vinegar

1 tsp honey

2 pinches chilli flakes

6+ Tbsp olive oil

Combine all those beautiful ingredients in a jug or something with tall sides and introduce them to your hand held blender, or alternatively use a different blending device. You know what’s best. Whizz until well combined. You might have to add more oil. Yum yum. Now get a spoon and try. Or if you’ve got manners spread some on a piece of toast. Or fold through pasta with a few roasted cherry tomatoes. Or combine with some sour cream  to make a tasty spread or dip.

pesto rosso and cream cheese


I have an affinity to add coriander to pretty much everything I cook. I can’t help it, coriander haters, it is just so that I can have more and you have to sit there sulking. Get over your hate for that green leafiness and direct it at something that needs your hate more, like sweet mayonnaise (seriously, who came up with the genius idea to put sugar in it? Did some housewife one day go: Man I really want dessert but all I have is mayonnaise…or maybe it was her husband who thought she was making custard and after having a taste, threw in a kilo of caster sugar…we can only speculate. And hate.). I promise you’ll love it one day.

I love it in Thai- and Indian curries, atop cheesy nachos, especially in salsas, in zingy guacamole and in good old pumpkin soup. And in this pesto. Inspired by the Woolworths dip section, minus the preservatives, citric acid, food acid, lactic acid and any other sort of acid they can get a hold of. Dangerous stuff I’m telling you.

Make this if you’re over pesto, if you want to jazz up your evening apéro selection of chips and dip, or if you just really want to give coriander another chance.

Thai Style Pesto

2 bunches of coriander, roots, stems, leaves, roughly chopped

4cm knob ginger, grated

2 garlic cloves

1 stick lemongrass, finely sliced

2 kaffir lime leaves, finely sliced

½ chilli, finely sliced

1 lime, grated rind and juice

80g roasted cashews, plus an additional handful of chopped cashews, to stir in at the end for texture

4+ Tbsp olive oil


Blend the lot with a handheld blender in a measuring cup or jug until smooth, adding more oil as needed.

Use immediately or transfer to a jar and cover with olive oil. This will keep for about 1 week in the fridge.

I love this as a dip, with crisp pita wedges, with fried eggs on toast,or with rice noodles, some freshly chopped mint and a sprinkling of crispy-fried shallots.

Pasting it up

I have a soft spot for hand held blenders. Wack them in a pot of cooked vegetables, tadaa, you’ve got silky smooth soup. Give some chickpeas and some tahini a whirl and you get a delicious dip. Same with curry pastes. You may have discovered by know that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to ready made things. And I may sound like a broken record, but people, making your own curry paste takes literally as long as it does to open a jar of ready made stuff, and it will seriously taste ten times better. “Yeah but the ingredients list is sooo long!” So what. After having bought all your ingredients, you’ll have everything on hand for the next curry night. Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass sticks are quite happy to hang in the freezer. Cook this and you will see the world with different eyes. You can join my snob club if you want. We can even be friends.

Red Thai Curry Paste

½ onion, roughly chopped

½ red capsicum, roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, halved

4 cm knob of ginger, grated

1 bunch fresh coriander, stems and roots, roughly chopped, leaves reserved

1-3 chillies, depending on heat, chopped

3 kaffir lime leaves, shredded

1 lemongrass stalk, thinly sliced

1 heaped Tbsp peanut butter

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

2 tsp sweet paprika

½ tsp salt, to taste

2 Tbsp vegetable oil

So basically, throw the lot into a jug-like device and give it a good workout with the blender, trying to get it as smooth as possible. Yep, that was it.

I’ll tell you what fun things I make with it next time.

Yeah. That stuff. Pesto.

One of the simplest dinners ever would be pesto pasta. Tasty and filling. Or at least I hope it’s like that for you. Quite possibly, you’ve got your own very special reipe which was handed down to you by your Italian great grandmother. I’m sure you’re recipe’s great, I really am. But this here is how  I do it.

Thinking back, as a young ‘un, I always felt there was never enough pesto on the actual pasta. Those store bought jars were always just too damn small. And if I put too much parmesan on it I’d almost choke on the dryness it imparted on this otherwise beautiful little dish. That is why these days people, I make my own pesto. My father’s girlfriend looks after these amazing basil bushes at the back of our house, so whenever the urge comes upon us, we make pesto. I like my pesto cheesy, and nutty. And salty, with a bit of tang. I like to mix it with cream cheese and a little sour cream for a yummy dip, or mix it into a salad dressing…or slathered over pizza. Whatever you’re up to with this, make sure you make twice the amount, if you can. Because it’ll vanish far quicker than you’d think.


¾ cup firmly packed fresh basil

35g grated parmesan cheese

40g roasted cashews

2 large garlic cloves, halved

1 Tbsp lemon juice

4+ Tbsp olive oil

salt and pepper

Add all the ingredients to a measuring jug or some sort of vessel with high sides and puree until smooth and creamy. You may have to add some more olive oil to get the right consistency, which isn’t too thick, but also not too runny. Transfer to a jar and cover with more olive oil. It’ll keep for about a week in your fridge. Enjoy pumpkin.

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