Pesto for Project Managers (in under 8 minutes)

Bowl by corinnapyman.co.uk
Bowl by corinnapyman.co.uk

Here is the perfect recipe for the keen project manager. I’ve applied Lean Project Management methodology to the recipe for Pesto to maximise customer value (it’s yummy) and minimise waste (especially time – homemade is so much better than store-bought, but seems a hassle to make – or does it ….?)

You can follow the text below, or just watch the video to see how it is done.

We’re eradicating as much waste as possible. And we are going to do it in an iterative way. So each time you make Pesto you aim to shave seconds off your Personal Best, and adapt the quantities to increase the flavour. In particular we are going to avoid these wastes:

Travel: pre-position your ingredients and tools, making sure your food processor is right next to your hob to minimise time travelling across the kitchen during the cooking process.

Gold plating: the goal is to maximise the yumminess of Pesto. You are the customer, so you are the judge of what’s worth doing.  I like my pine nuts toasted so this recipe allows for toasting.  If you don’t care about toasted nuts – forget it and save more time.  You can waste a lot of time taking leaves off the stems.  I only cut off the tough bottom bits. Fine measurement of ingredients is unnecessary. You can’t have too much Pesto – so instead of following a pernickety recipe specifying “50g of basil leaves” [how on earth are you supposed to measure 50g of basil leaves?!?] always make the same quantity.

Waiting: It saves time if you do as much as possible simultaneously, rather than following a series of consecutive processes. And because toasting the nuts takes the longest time, you aim to complete all the other steps by the time the nuts are browned.

OK – here we go.

Put a hand-full of Pine Nuts (about 125g if you really want to measure) in a frying pan and cook on low heat.

While they are toasting, take 2 big hands-full of Basil. If you are removing stems, keep the basil in the bags and cut off the bottom of the stems while still in the bag.  This opens the bag and keeps the basil together. (You can save more time by cutting all 2-3 bags together in one chop.) Using ready washed saves a lot of time. Chuck the Basil in the processor and, while you are blending, tip some olive oil on top with a pinch of salt and lots of pepper (I like pepper!). Use just enough oil to keep the leaves from sticking to the sides.

Toss the nuts around the frying pan to ensure they toast evenly. You want to judge your heat so they do not cook too quickly and you have time to complete all the other steps before they have browned to ease the flow of your manufacturing process.

Crush 2-4 cloves of garlic.  You can save time by putting raw garlic in your Pesto (in which case you need fewer cloves).  I prefer to take the edge off the garlic by giving them a quick cook.  You are the customer so do what is tastiest for you.

Squeeze juice from half a lemon into the food processor. Not strictly necessary, but I think lemon adds a lot of taste to everything (and so does my Mum): value to the customer.

Grate Parmesan or Grana Padana cheese using a pyramidal grater positioned on your cutting board.  This keeps the cheese in one place, saving waste and giving you a way of measuring it.  I grate until the cheese comes halfway up a 16cm high grater. You may want more or less according to taste – and you may have to adjust depending on the strength of the cheese you use. Once grated, slide the grater with cheese inside across the chopping board straight into the processor – no wastage.

My personal assistant, Bubble, “helping” me review some project plans.

Now there is a potential problem here.  My trusty personal assistant, Bubble, quite likes parmesan cheese and used to enjoy the wastage that would fall off the side of the cutting board during grating.  So you may want “accidentally” to generate a small amount of waste and allow a little bit of cheese to fall on the floor.  Good assistants are hard to come by!

By this point, you want to have judged the heat on your frying pan so that the nuts are toasted.  Each time you make Pesto you want to adjust the heat to make this possible.  After a few goes you will be able to time this perfectly.  Turn off the hob, and tip the toasted pine nuts into the processor. Immediately put a splash of olive oil in the frying pan and scrape in the chopped garlic.  There will be enough heat still in the pan to gently cook the garlic to take the edge off it.

Once the garlic has softened for a few minutes, scrape it in, blend and add olive oil until the Pesto looks right.  You are the judge – some like it runnier than others.

And there you have it! A tasty Pesto which should take you no longer than 10 minutes to make. My personal best is 7 mins, 26.81 seconds. It will improve each time you make it as you refine your technique. And you will also have learnt a lot about Lean Project Management – and if you’re lucky, you will salivate the next time you are at work using Lean to manage your project!


This recipe is dedicated to the BBC Spark team who first introduced me to Lean Project Management with the most mouth-watering still of a lean rump steak!