Pesto

It’s summer. There’s nothing better than pesto.

Pesto is Ligurian. Why? Around Genoa the basil is best, they tell me. The olive oil is spectacular in Liguria. It all comes together in a simple and quite memorable dish.

They make it thus:

  • garlic
  • basil
  • European pine nuts
  • olive oil
  • some salt
  • grated cheese, Parimgiano or pecorino, I prefer pecorino

I just whiz it all up in a hand blender: a big handful of basil leaves, a garlic clove (two if they’re small), pine nuts if I have them on hand, and enough oil that it makes the right consistency. It always seems to me to need salt. The grated cheese I add later.

Of course, this is not how it’s done. Everyone in Italy will shake a finger at you and give that little “tsk” sound they do so well. You need a nonna. You ask of her, “Pesto? Pranzo?” and she wraps her bony little fingers around that big, stone mortar with the phallic pestle and drags it off the top shelf. She puts everything into the mortar and pounds it gently for quite some time—until it gets all creamy green.

Then she starts making the pasta. From scratch. Soon you will eat.

If you’re an American, of course, you skip the very first step because your nonna’s meds don’t allow her the strength to lift the hand blender, much less a 60 pound stone morar and pestle.

So you commit the sin of using a machine that whacks mercilessly on the ingredients and carry on from there.

It turns out good.

Not everyone makes it thus. The Coral fishers from Pegli near Genoa who founded Carloforte on the Sardinian Isola di San Pietro in the 18th century add tomatoes to the dish—and sometimes tuna. It’s what was plentiful on the island.

And here’s a cooking tip. Make a pseudo-pesto from parsley. Then, when you want a very quick pasta sauce, you just saute some tomatoes, then, when the pasta is about ready, add however big a dollop of the pesto as you might like. Quick and dirty pasta Americana. Add anchovies and hot peppers, maybe some black olives.

Or go all out and make it with mint. Or even make a wild version that famous Elizabeth Minchilli made at Easter one time: fave + spring pesto {orecchiette}

Go wild with pesto. Just don’t tell an Italian.

pesto, orecchiette con pesto


Pesto originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com , updated: Aug 16, 2015 © .

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