Pesto is a unique and delicious sauce that originated in Genoa, Italy, around the 16th century. It is nice to serve on pasta on a hot summer day. We just spent some time in the Mediterranean region where it was very hot. We joined the locals and did not eat our main meal until 8 pm. Pesto was great to eat during the day just to satisfy our quick hunger. I really like how the fragrant basil can transform this meal with all its other ingredients olive oil, cheese, garlic, and pine nuts into a something so unique.
Originally, pesto was made in mortars and according to Genoese cooks pesto can only be made in mortars. In fact its name or its verb version ‘pestare’ means to pound and grind. Today, we have food processors that would be a fine replacement, just keep in mind that pesto is meant to be pounded and not so much chopped so in other words don’t over process it in the food processor and mix the cheese in at the end by hand.
- 4 cups of tightly packed fresh basil
- 1 cup of fresh, cold pressed olive oil
- 1/2 cup of chopped up pine nuts (walnuts are fine too)
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1 cup of freshly graded parmi-giano-reggiano cheese
- 4 Tbsp of graded romano cheese (optional)
- 1 pound of pasta (spaghetti or any pasta with a large surface area)
- Take the leaves off of the stems and wash them well in cold water. Clip off the flowering tips and any brownish leaves if there are any. Put them in a colander and let the water drain off. By the time you have everything else ready the basil should be ready too.
- Start boiling water for the pasta. Continue according to the package. Save a little cooking water for the pesto.
- Measure out all the ingredients.
- Chop up the garlic with the blade of a sharp knife.
- I do not have a mortar but I have a small food processor. The following directions are for a food processor. Put the basil in the food processor and process until fully chopped. (You are chopping at this stage). Add olive oil, pine nuts, chopped garlic, salt and chop quickly, gently just until they are nicely blended.
- Transfer this mixture into a clean bowl. You will continue mixing in the cheese with a spoon by hand. (Please see explanation above).
- When adding the pesto to the pasta, add 2-4 Tbsp of the reserved pasta water.
- Serve at room temperature with vegetables.
Marcella Hazan: Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking