Sweet Basilico!

Basil

Basil is one of my favorite herbs!  I grow many basil plants in my vegetable garden each summer and enjoy it until it bolts in the fall.  I enjoy adding it to quick pasta sauces, added fresh in sandwiches, snipped into salads, placed on top of a large red slice of Beef Steak tomatoes with burrata cheese and then drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  And then… there is fresh pesto!

Basil

Pesto is made from fresh pulverized basil with extra virgin olive oil and a few other ingredients, which has become a mainstay on restaurant menus across America.  Pesto is now slathered on sandwiches, grilled onto chicken breasts, and placed atop pizzas.  It is now the inescapable condiment…because it is so delicious and versatile!

Now American chefs have devised recipes for all kinds of pestos; mint, parsley, mixed herb, etc.

Basil

But do you know that the recipe for pesto is 150 years old?!  Its origin is Genoa, Italy.  Genoa is a beautiful port city on the Mediterranean and where Christopher Columbus called “home.”  The region is called Liguria.  And it is here in Liguria that pesto is a fact of life.  The Ligurian chefs add it to lasagna, spaghetti, spread it on focaccia, and spoon it on minestrone.  Some eat pesto seven days a week while others only during holidays.  Ligurians are fiercely protective of the recipe.  They say, basil should come from the western neighborhood in Genoa called Pra.  Salt must be coarse and from the Mediterranean Sea.  Garlic is best from the province of Imperia, and the extra virgin olive oil must be cold-pressed from the tiny olives of Taggia.  And only Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese must accompany the pasta.  Trofie is the pasta of choice, which is a short twisted noodle.  And finally, it must be prepared in the traditional way, with a large mortar and pestle.

Santa Margarita, Italy

In 2008, my family and I visited Santa Margarita in the Cinque Terra region of Liguria.  Before arriving in Santa Margarita, I knew I was going to order a plate of pesto pasta!  We sat in an outdoor restaurant that overlooked the Mediterranean bay on a beautiful sunny June day.  I ordered the Trofie pesto with a glass of the famous Ligurian crisp white wine.    I was surprised when my dish of pasta was placed before me…it was the softest shade of creamy lime green.  Back home in California, I have never been served a pesto sauce like this.  Extraordinary!  The taste was so delicate and creamy!  And, I new there was no cream in the recipe.  Although there was garlic in the recipe, there was no garlic flavor to be found, let alone any bitterness.  I was absolutely in heaven with this simple dish of pasta, which was perfectly paired with the wine!

Christopher Columbus statue

Trofie pasta

Uncooked dry Trofie Pasta

I learned while Santa Margarita that the regions ingredients used in their cuisine are all predominately “delicate” in nature.  The proteins used in their dishes are primarily fish such branzino, shrimp, and octopus.  Many of the dishes are prepared with local lemons, delicate olive oil, and served with light crisp white wine that is made from the grapes that grow on the steep terraced hillsides that adorn the entire coast of Liguria.  It is so beautiful in this region of Italy.  And, I love the flavor profile from this region!

Pesto Pasta

I make pesto for my family throughout the summer…we all love it.  It brings me back to that warm summer day on the Mediterranean.  I try to achieve that beautiful lime green sauce each time I make it…but always fall a little short.  Perhaps I need to move to the sea!

Below is the original recipe for pesto from Genoa.  Enjoy!

Pesto alla Genovese   Serves 4

36 basil leaves (washed and dried)
2 Tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 small whole garlic clove
¼ teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 Tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino cheese
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil that is cold pressed  (Taggiasca variety from Liguria if you can find it in Italian specialty markets)

1 pound of cooked al dente pasta (Trofie or what ever is your favorite)

NOTE: Do not prepare the pesto sauce until the pasta is done cooking.  The pesto will oxidize and turn dark if it sits.
 
NOTE: save a half of a cup of the cooking water before you drain.  The water can be added in small amounts to add to the sauce to make it more saucy and smooth.

If you have a large mortar and pestle begin mashing the basil leaves, salt, and garlic.  About half way through, add the pine nuts and cheese.  When complete mashed, slowly add the olive oil in a thin stream of oil while continuing to mash and incorporate the pesto with the oil.   Add to the cooked pasta and serve immediately.

I don’t have a mortar and pestle, so I use my Cuisinart food processor.  I add all the ingredients to the bowl except the olive oil and then I chop until very fine.  I then add the olive oil food the food tube in a thin stream and continue to process until completely combined.  It will be lime green!

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