What Is Chocolate Pesto?

Dark chocolate

Short answer
Quite simply, chocolate pesto is standard basil pesto that has been given an extra layer of depth and complexity thanks to the inclusion of a little dark chocolate.

Long answer
Mexican mole is the poster child of how chocolate can be used in savoury settings. Here in the UK though, cooks tend to only reach for chocolate when making desserts, patisseries, or pastries. That's missing a trick because chocolate works remarkably well in all kinds of savoury settings, particularly when paired with red meats like beef, venison, and mutton.

We figured that if the Mexicans can include dark chocolate in their sauces, why can't it work in any sauce? As it turns out, if used wisely, chocolate can be used to bring an intriguing depth, richness and complexity to a traditional recipe like pesto Genovese.

We use the word "wisely" because chocolate is no different to wine: the terroir and climate are crucial to how it tastes and therefore how it will interact with the ingredients it is paired with. If, like us, you are not dark chocolate aficionados, the safest bet is to go with a chocolate that is at least 85% cocoa and without added sugar.

Wisely also means sparingly. Chocolate is there to be the support act, not the protagonist. Think of it is as a seasoning that you add in small quantities, tasting as you go along, just like you already do with salt and pepper.

Dark chocolate pesto recipe

Basil 75g
Olive oil 75g
Parmesan 30g
Pine nuts 30g
Garlic x1 clove
Dark chocolate* to taste
Salt pinch

* Ideally use 100% cocoa dark chocolate with no added sugar. Add the chocolate sparingly at first, making sure to taste as you go along. The sweet spot for us is around 10g but trust your own palette as people have very different tolerances to chocolate in savoury settings.

Method
Add all the ingredients apart from the oil and chocolate to a food processor and blitz to your ideal consistency.

Transfer to a mixing bowl and stream in the oil, mixing constantly.

Finely grate a small amount of chocolate and add it to the sauce in increments, tasting as you go.

When the sauce is to your liking, serve immediately with a piping hot bowl of pasta.

A word of caution
It's worth noting that in 2014 Hotel Chocolat launched chocolate pesto and chocolate pasta to considerable fanfare. Neither survived long, showing that even big companies can get the balance of chocolate in sauces wrong.