We count on cooking to calm us down, so we like to do things by hand—as long as it’s not coleslaw for 50. For us, then, the mortar and pestle is a pretty cool tool. They come in every material, shape, and size, and make great kitchen sculpture—but choose the right kind for the job. Moroccans use a mortar and pestle to grind fresh spice mixtures; wood works well for this. Italians use stone or marble to crush nuts and garlic, then pound in basil for luxurious pesto; for successful pesto, the mortar and pestle needs heft and grit. In Chinatown, we found the Thai-made Number 8 stone mortar and pestle. It’s big, heavy, not too pretty, and can pulverize nuts to a powder.
Mortar and Pesto