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Sunday, July 15, 2012

Pesto Perfecto

Pesto pasta in the classical style of Liguria with green beans & potatoes 

Pesto, that ethereal basil-based sauce from Italy, has become almost synonymous with California cuisine…there are few restaurants featuring this genre of cooking that don’t offer something with pesto.  But, let’s get something straight from the beginning.   It’s pronounced “pay stow” not “pes stow.”

Pesto has its origin on the Mediterranean coastline of northern Italy in the region of Liguria (think Portofino, Cinque Terre and Genoa) where basil grows like a weed.  While today in American kitchens it is frequently made in Cuisine-Arts or even blenders, in Liguria pesto is still made the old-fashioned way with a mortar and pestle.  Having taken numerous cooking classes in this region of Italy, I’ve learned that cooks prefer the mortar method because they feel it results in a superior product---the mortar  results in improved flavor because of it doesn’t “bruise” the basil as much as the more modern devices.  Moreover, the mortar results in pesto with a more interesting texture.

Interestingly, basil is thought to have originated in Northern Africa, however, it was first domesticated in India.   Baslico (as they say in Italy) is abundant in Italian & American markets during the summer months.  As pesto freezes fairly well, the next few months are a great time to make a stash for the winter… when a pasta al pesto quickly takes me on vicarious trip to Italy’s sunny coastline.  Regardless of what method you choose to make pesto, here’s my winning recipe which is a compilation from a couple of different Ligurian chefs:

·        2 C firmly packed basil
·        1 heaping tablespoon pine nuts
·        1 tablespoon walnuts
·        Pinch of salt
·        2 medium cloves of garlic (Ligurians typically prefer less garlic than Americans; adjust for your preference)
·        ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
·        ½ cup freshly grated parmiggiano-reggiano
·        2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino 

Crush (in blender, food processor or mortar/pestle) the basil, nuts, salt and garlic.  Slowly add the oil in droplets to incorporate.  Last, gently add cheeses--do not over manipulate.

Buon appetito!

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