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Presto, Pesto!

April 5, 2010

After spending a few days in the Eternal City last summer, Aaron and I decided to take the train north along the coast, past Pisa into Liguria, also known as the Italian Riviera.  We had a made a reservation at a small family-run villa in the even smaller town of Monterossa al Mare, part of Cinque Terre.  We planned to just stay a night or two, but one glimpse of the sparkling blue sea and picturesque towns gave us a change of heart!

Everything about our time there was amazing!  The view from our balcony looked out over the mediterranean and the painted houses below.  In the morning we would watch fisherman in their tiny boats set out to sea while we dined on freshly made croissants with orange marmalade that was made from the oranges growing on the property.  Every afternoon we would stroll through town past hearty neighborhood gardens and freshly hung laundry on our way to the seaside.  It was all so very lovely!

The one thing that really put the town over the top, though?

The food!

The seafood was so fresh and savory and was always perfectly paired with the regions locally grown pinot grigios.

The one thing we couldn’t get enough of?

the pesto!

We ate it over baked white fish, on italian sandwiches and atop gnocchi.  I probably would have eaten it by itself if given the opportunity!  The region of Liguria is actually considered the birthplace of this tasty dish and they clearly haven’t lost their touch!  The best recipe I have found to replicate the taste is from 101 cookbooks and goes a little something like this:

How to Make Pesto like an Italian Grandmother

The technique here is: chop a bit, add some ingredients, chop some more. I think part of the reason she does it this way (instead of chopping everything all at once) is because some things get chopped into oblivion, while some not as much – it encourages specturm of cut sizes throughout the pesto contributing to the overall texture. All told, the chopping took me a leisurely twenty to thirty minutes, I wasn’t in any particular rush.

You’ll notice this recipe doesn’t have any added salt (just the saltiness from the cheese), make sure your pasta water is well salted if you are going to use this pesto on pasta or the overall flavor profile will fall flat. Also, be sure to adjust for seasoning before serving. With food this simple, you need to get the seasoning right.

1 large bunch of basil, leaves only, washed and dried
3 medium cloves of garlic
one small handful of raw pine nuts
roughly 3/4 cup Parmesan, loosely packed and FRESHLY GRATED
A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

Special equipment: large mezzaluna for chopping

Start chopping the garlic along with about 1/3 of the basil leaves. Once this is loosely chopped add more basil, chop some more, add the rest of the basil, chop some more. I scrape and chop, gather and chop. At this point the basil and garlic should be a very fine mince. Add about half the pine nuts, chop. Add the rest of the pine nuts, chop. Add half of the Parmesan, chop. Add the rest of the Parmesan, and chop. In the end you want a chop so fine that you can press all the ingredients into a basil “cake” – see the photo up above. Transfer the pesto “cake” to a small bowl (not much bigger than the cake). Cover with a bit of olive oil, it doesn’t take much, just a few tablespoons.

You can set this aside or place it in the refrigerator until you are ready to use it. Just before serving give the pesto a quick stir to incorporate some of the oil into the basil.

Makes about 1 cup.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2010 8:13 am

    Why oh why does Italy have SO many amazing places…I seriously need a 2-month vaca to see them all! Since I’ve checked off Rome, Florence, Capri, & Positano (although I want to revisit them ALL of course!), Cinque Terre is next on the list. And for now, I can whip up a batch of this pesto and dream… The photos are amazing, by the way- like a postcard!!

    • effortlesschic permalink
      April 6, 2010 9:30 pm

      On top of having so many wonderful places, it also insists on being a 9 hour plane ride away!
      I would love to go to Capri and the islands… but first Spain!

  2. April 9, 2010 8:43 am

    So beautiful!

    We just made pesto the other night, mmm. This exact recipe except we threw in some sun-dried tomatoes to mix it up a bit. Delish!

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