BASIL PESTO

My garden keeps on yielding an abundance of basil. And a few tomatoes. I keep on cutting the basil and more sprouts up. As I am getting tired of Caprese Salads and of shelling out nearly $10 for a buffalo mozzarella I decided the obvious way out is pesto. Make a lot, freeze it and pull it out when the need arises.

Most people know that pesto (from the word “pestle”, same English root) comes from Liguria where a couple of years ago someone, somewhere in the region decided to launch a World Pesto Championship. I feel for the poor judges who spend the day tasting the same dish over and over. What most people might not know is that basil, at the base of every pesto, is not indigenous to Liguria or to Italy, for that matter, but it was first  found in Northern Africa  although it became a household plant in India. Go figure. How it made its way to Liguria, I wasn’t able to uncover but Genoa was a Maritime Republic so it’s safe to assume curious sailors brought the tender plants back at some point in the 18th century. The first pesto recipe as we know it is fairly recent – 800’s – but already in the Renaissance a dip called “agliata” (from “aglio” meaning garlic) was fairly widespread. No pine nuts in it though.

Vampire that I am, I am partial to pesto without garlic but I also have to concede the original recipe does call for garlic. My Northern Italian origins are to blame for my antipathy for garlic as it is not widely used where I come from or, at least, not chopped. Most recipes will mention only smashed garlic added to the oil to perfume sauces, meats or vegetables. It’s in the warmer climates of the South that garlic was used profusely to mask the taste of meats or fish that might have been a tad too old and to take advantage of its disinfectant properties.

Different cities in Liguria argue as to how much Pecorino or Parmesan to uses but for us regular pesto eaters, I  feel it’s a matter of personal taste. The most common use for pesto is as a  pasta sauce but since its advent here in the States, the applications have become endless: added to soups (like the French do), to mayonnaise to create a tastier spread, as a dip or a meat accompaniment. Recently I was served it with fried calamari and I can vouch it is not a good combination.

If you have a pestle, put it to good use making pesto – the pounding of the mortar will extract the best out of the basil leaves. But a food processor or blender works just fine – you will not channel your inner Ligurian mama but no one at the dinner table will know.

RECIPE

1 C 1/2 Basil

1/2 C Extra Virgin Olive Oil

6 T Parmesan Cheese – finely grated

2 T Pecorino Cheese – finely grated

2 Cloves of Garlic

1 T Pine Nuts – slightly toasted

Put everything in the blender (or pound with a mortar) until creamy. Taste and adjust seasoning by adding salt  or any of the ingredients you would like to taste more of.

It freezes beautifully.

Tip on how to keep basil for a long time – put the stems in water and cover the leaves with an upside down plastic bag. Keep at room temperature and away from direct sunlight.

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1 Comment

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One response to “BASIL PESTO

  1. silvia

    One of the biggest advantages of having maternal grandparents from the South of Italy is that one grows up with a true Mediterrenian diet, not to mention the rainbow of scents out of a variety of combinations of garlic and onion and spices.
    In addition to this my grannie was a fantastic cook – she could make a simple sald talk by adding that precise amount of onion and God knows what else. And I am so glad I grew up with that dietary inprinting, so much healthier compared to a tortellini portion! Eventhough I must admit that once in a while a good plate of tortellini is just what one needs. But it’s different when you grow up filled with them and lasagne!
    Anyway thanks to my origins even today when I choose what to eat I know that it was that choice of foodstuff that forged my taste. I wish I could take you sometime to the place where my grandparents were born- Poggiomarino, very closed to Naples. Still today an uncle of mine – zia Amalia – among tons of activieties all related to food, in the courtyard full of figs tree, she prepares with her hands cannoli filled with cream and/or chocolate. Never tasted something like that nowhere!

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