Mortar and Pesto

Lisa Charles

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.