Even though my dreams of walking over to my fire escape, lifting the window, and picking a hefty bunch of fresh basil may not come true this summer (hey I’m not giving up- just being a little realistic) it doesn’t mean that I still don’t get to indulge in one of my summer favorites: pesto.
I think I’ve always loved pesto- simply because I can’t remember a time I didn’t like it (I remember all too well when I didn’t like mustard or cauliflower or…). I even remember it being the first meal my Aunt had when she arrived in Italy to visit me. My Aunt Liz loves Italian food so visiting me in Italy was like her going home in a way. She wanted to taste the best of the best and I brought her to my favorite Florentine restaurant: Il Contadino.
It was a tiny, hole on the wall kind of place. With a fixed price menu, awesome house wine, and super helpful staff, it was my diamond in the rough. One of my fave Florentine finds.
Needless to say, Liz was not impressed. Liz wanted the fancy place, the restaurant people flew to eat at from all over the world. But that’s not what I wanted her to taste. Florence was a city of simple elegance. Like its food, the restaurant was no fuss but all substance.
Liz ordered the pesto and was dismayed when it came over fettuccine. Fettuccine? That is not how we serve it at home. But nonetheless she swirled that thick creamy sauce into the pasta and took a bite. I could tell from her face- she was in heaven. This may not have been her dream restaurant but the pesto was a winner.
And all pesto is not created equal. I spent all last summer dumping ingredients into my food processor, without caring for quantities, and coming out with a subpar pesto. This summer I learned my lesson. Find a simple recipe and follow.
Pesto - recipe adapted slightly from Simply Recipes
2 cups of fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pignoli (pine) nuts (I’ve also used walnuts and pecans and liked the results)
1 roughly chopped garlic clove
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Add the garlic, basil, and pine nuts to a food processor and pulse a few times until it is a paste-like consistency.
2. Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while pulsing to incorporate all the ingredients. Add the parmesan, salt, and pepper and pulse a few times until fully blended.
To have this pesto with pasta, cook your pasta until al dente, and then drain, reserving some of the pasta water. In another pan, heat up the pesto with a bit of the pasta water and add the pasta. Give it a good toss and add more water if needed. The pesto will coat the pasta evenly- so you have the taste of pesto in each bite.
This recipe is great in a bind since it makes making dinner super easy- and on those stressful work days, I can use all the help I can get. I love to make this on a Sunday to use in my recipe’s all week long- and this one little pesto recipe will make me a pasta dinner, a topping for an Italian burger, and an amazing pesto pizza. And that’s only the start. Pesto is simple, versatile, and powerful.