Deconstructed Pesto Canapes

3 horizontal 2A simple recipe I learned at university:


  • 1 jar shop bought pesto
  • 1 teaspoon (optional)

Unscrew jar. Insert teaspoon (if using) into jar. Remove and lick clean. Weigh guilt, and repeat as necessary.


Pesto; Parmesan, pine kernels and basil. Call it Genovese pesto to distinguish it from its impersonators. Great on pasta and on toasted ciabatta, but clearly at its best just eaten furtively straight out of the jar.

Of course, jar pesto is not “real” pesto, as everybody knows. Real pesto has to be made with a pestle and mortar. It must only use Parmeggiano Reggiano, and extra virgin olive oil. It must have garlic and never lemon juice. That’s real pesto – you don’t mess with tradition.

Except of course that everyone does. Sometimes its made with parsley. Or coriander, or rocket. With pecorino as well as parmesan. With sundried tomatoes, or walnuts, or mint and pistachios. The notion of the one true, pure pesto is often invoked, but far more often completely ignored.

This deconstructed pesto canape is not traditional, but has a purity of concept. Parmesan, pine kernels, basil. No bread or pasta to interfere with the flavours – just like eating it straight off the spoon.

Close up 2

Deconstructed Pesto Canape

Basil jelly

1 1/2 tsp powdered gelatin or 2 gelatin leaves
25g fresh basil leaves
A handful of pine kernels

Blend the basil in a blender or food processor with 100ml of water. Strain through a square of cheesecloth, leaving it to drip for about 30 minutes. Discard the pulp and reserve the liquid.

If you’re using powdered gelatin, sprinkle it all over the surface of 100ml boiling water and disperse well with a whisk or fork to avoid clumping. If using leaf gelatin, bloom it (soak in a little cold water for 5 minutes) and then top up to 100ml with boiling water and whisk until well dissolved.
Combine basil-water and gelatin-water and whisk well.

Set in a small, deep dish with the pine kernels mixed through. When completely set, turn out and either cut into squares or made into melon balls and reserve.

Parmesan Crisps

(Method pilfered from The French Laundry cookbook)

Parmesan wafer

Preheat oven to 160C/Gas mark 3

Grate parmesan using the parmesan side of a grater. Fine, long-ish gratings are best.

Sprinkle parmesan in a loose, flat, thin layer using a non stick cooking sheet or in the dimples of a lightly greased non stick tart sheet.

Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the crisps are golden brown. Allow to cool for 30 seconds and lift off with a palate knife. Off the hot tin, they will cool instantly, so you can set them onto serving plate or reserve in an airtight container overnight.

Assemble canapes by placing a cube/ball of jelly on top of wafer.

Six in a row

Tips for Geeks

Why deconstruct a dish? Well, most often the point is to present an old idea in a new form. Deconstruction tends to work best with classic dishes that everyone knows and can recognise even in a new form. Usually these dishes are classics because those flavours go particularly well together. So you might look for ways to keep the flavours but alter their delivery.
For example, in this dish I had basil in a jelly rather than its traditional format of being mixed in with oil. One of the practical differences this makes is that gelatin has an amazingly fast flavour release, whereas oil is a little slower and tends to linger on the palate. So the jelly on the deconstructed pesto canape gives an instant, full powered hit of basil that disappears swiftly. This fits in with the concept of the dish as an extra-pure version of pesto.

The basil water and the gelatin water are made separately and then combined because it’s best not to cook the basil and probably better not to cheesecloth-filter the gelatin.

Parmesan crisps are from The French Laundry cookbook and can be used for a host of purposes. Lay one on top of a bowl of soup, or perch in a quenelle of tomato purée. They take about five minutes of work and look like you paid for an expensive culinary education.
When trying to make the concave shape to hold the jelly, if you don’t have an appropriate sized tart sheet you can form cups by pressing a warm wafer into the hollow of an egg carton. Also they work slightly better with parmesan that is still fairly moist.

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