Green Dream: Pesto pasta is the perfect way to cap off summer

Green Dream: Pesto pasta is the perfect way to cap off summer

I returned from summer vacation this year to find my little patch of sweet basil looking beautiful. Despite a slow start, the leaves were bright green on thick, sturdy stems.

I had nursed the basil along all summer, watering it well, but trying not to overload it. I had hoped the bright sunshine would help my drooping little plants and leaves that were beginning to yellow.

There was little to eat in the house after being away, so I decided to make pasta with pesto sauce for dinner.

Classic pesto hails from Liguria, a region of Italy known as the โ€œItalian Riviera.โ€ Before the days of food processors, pesto was made with a mortar and pestle. It was, by all accounts, a very slow and painstaking process.

There are many variations of pesto or โ€œpesto sauceโ€ out there. Most call for the addition of pine nuts, but I often omit them or use walnuts if I have them on hand. On this occasion, I was using Giuliano Hazan’s version for โ€œGenoese Basil Pestoโ€ from his cookbook โ€œHow to Cook Italian.โ€ His recipe calls for two cheeses: Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano.

I have been making pesto sauce for decades. But, as a matter of full disclosure, my first attempt this time did not work out well. I had purchased a wedge of Pecorino Romano cheese from the grocery store that was dramatically reduced.

โ€œWhat could possibly be wrong with it?โ€ I thought.

I added the salt to the mixture, which Hazan calls for in his recipe. The result was an extremely salty sauce that ended up in the garbage. I started over using just the Parmesan I had on hand and not adding any additional salt. It was very good. Likely, the Pecorino was very old and became overly salty as it aged.

Note to selfโ€”buy only good quality and fresh Italian cheeses and olive oil! The result will be worth it. And, because each brand of cheese might vary greatly in salt content, add salt at the end.

Genoese Basil Pesto

Ingredients

  • 1 1/3 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts (or walnuts, if you prefer)
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ยผ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or use all Parmesan)
  • 1 tablespoon softened, unsalted butter

Directions

  • Remove any basil stems and gently wash the leaves. Dry with paper towels or spin in a salad spinner.
  • Peel the garlic clove and place it in a food processor with the basil leaves, pine nuts and olive oil (add additional cloves if you are a garlic lover).
  • Run the food processor until the mixture is smooth and creamy.
  • Scrape the mixture with a spatula into a bowl and fold in the grated cheese.
  • When you are ready to serve the pasta, add 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water and the softened butter to the pesto mixture in the bowl. Stir until incorporated (I often add additional olive oil as I like a very smooth consistency).
  • Taste! And only add salt if needed.
  • Place your cooked and drained pasta in a serving bowl and toss with the pesto sauce.
  • Sprinkle a little extra grated cheese on top if you like and โ€œplantโ€ a fresh basil sprig in the middle.

If you make some pesto sauce this September, I hope it’s a smooth adventure. There is nothing like this Italian specialty. If you have an abundance of basil, you can make extra, place in small containers and freeze. A โ€œdollopโ€ of pesto is wonderful on grilled steaks and chicken or mixed in minestrone and tomato soups.

To me, it is the taste of eternal summer.

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