TIP OF THE DAY: Make Fresh Pesto
Look for deals on basil and make pesto.
Photo courtesy PreciseNutrition.com.
Our greenmarkets are flooded with huge bunches of basil, just beckoning to be made into pesto sauce. Pesto traditionally* consists of basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses, plus a pinch of salt. It originated in the Italian province of Liguria, 220 miles of crescent-shaped Mediterranean coastline that is sometimes called the Italian Riviera—and produces the sweetest, mildest basil.
The capital of Liguria is Genoa, and the region’s classic pesto is known as pesto alla genovese (jen-oh-VAY-zay). Ligurians take such great pride in their sauce, that they have sought D.O.P. status for pesto produced in the area (an official labeling that distinguishes a product for its authenticity and excellence and protects the use of the name).
The sauce gets its name from the word pestle; a mortar and pestle are the traditional device used to make pesto.
For centuries, pesto was used mostly as a condiment, to flavor vegetable soups. It wasn’t until 1910 that it began to be used as a sauce for pasta.
*Earlier versions of Ligurian pesto used parsley or marjoram instead of basil, and did not include the pine nuts. Delicious pestos can be made with arugula or other green, and with walnuts or hazelnuts. Regions that have an abundance of those nuts will make the substitution. Some recipes use a combination of Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses; others use only one. Some add butter to the pesto for added creaminess. Ligurian cooks have also been known to occasionally incorporate cooked potato into the sauce. At times, they combine pesto with tomatoes, or add a light, fresh cheese, like ricotta or prescineua, a cultured cheese similar to yogurt or crème fraîche.
WAYS TO USE PESTO
Traditional preparations with pesto include trenette, flat ribbon pasta similar to linguine but with ridges the pesto can clink to; and triofe alla Genovese, dumpling-like, rolled, worm-shaped pasta with crevices for pesto to fill. With the latter dish, small pieces of potato are boiled with the dry pasta, and when they’re almost done, string beans are added to the boiling liquid. The three ingredients are then tossed with pesto, adding some starchy cooking water to help it coat.
How else can you use pesto?
PESTO ALLA GENOVESE, AKA PESTO CLASSICO
The result of your labors: delicious pesto. Photo by Loooby | IST..
If you’re not a huge basil fan, try arugula, cilantro or spinach pesto. Pesto doesn’t have to be green: You can make it from mushrooms, olives, red bell peppers or sundried tomatoes. You can add chipotle, honey, maple syrup, olives, roasted garlic or whatever appeals to you, to make your signature pesto.
2. ADD the garlic and pound it until it releases its juices. Add the pignoli nuts and pound them into a paste. Move the pestle around the mortar to combine the ingredients.
3. STIR in the Pecorino and Parmigiano-Reggiano; then gradually add olive oil, stirring it into the paste (a spoon can be used for these steps, if you prefer). You should have a thick, creamy, homogenous, bright green sauce.
You can make pesto in a blender or food processor. We’ve done it both ways. Believe us, it tastes better when made with a mortar and pestle. If you want the ease of an electric appliance, choose the a blender.
1. COMBINE half the olive oil and all the ingredients, excluding the cheeses. Process, adding more oil, if necessary, to get the ingredients moving.
2. STOP the blender regularly to push the mixture down. Once a paste forms, stir in the cheeses, as well as additional olive oil, if desired.
MORE ON PESTO
Check out our article with reviews of the best ready-made pesto brands.