When I was a teenager I had the great good fortune to be sent to Italy to live with my mother’s family. My cousins Chiaretta and Cesare were given me as their summer assignment, so off we went. One of the most memorable of our trips was to the Cinque Terre, five magnificent Ligurian villages suspended above the sparkling Mediterranean. Chiaretta and her boyfriend took me for a day long walk from the southernmost village of Riomaggiore, where the train dropped us, to the northernmost, Monterosso, where family and friends awaited us. We found them at a restaurant under grape arbors and festooned with tiny colored lights. I was exhausted, exhilarated and famished. Moments after we sat down, steaming plates of pasta appeared in front of us. The fragrance knocked me back in my seat. It was my first plate of Pesto, and I have held all others since to the very high standard set that evening.
I have played with lots of different versions of Pesto. Here is one that I like a lot. You can also freeze Pesto (see the note) for a dark winter night when you need the embrace of an Italian summer to warm you.
4 – 5 loosely packed cups of fresh and fragrant basil leaves, cleaned and dried, stems removed. I find that a good handful is equivalent to a cup. (I have also made the recipe with 2 cups of basil for a more liquid pesto, but I suggest going for that wonderful basil punch.)
Dash of Natural Salt Crystals
¼ to ⅓ cup of the best olive oil, try our award-winning 100% Taggiasca Monocultivar Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 – 4 large cloves peeled garlic, cut into large pieces
¼ – ⅓ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
⅓ cup Pignoli nuts, optional, it adds a nice note. You can also use a few unsalted walnuts.
In a food processor or blender, process the basil, garlic and salt briefly until just shy of a puree, with small bits of basil visible. Add the cheese, and Pignoli nuts if you are using them, and process/blend briefly, just to mix. Add the oil a little at a time until you have a paste-like consistency. I like my pesto with some texture so I recommend that you do not over-process.
Toss onto hot pasta. Trofie is traditional but any excellent pasta will work. Serve immediately. You can also eliminate the cheese, add a bit more salt, and use a dollop on grilled fish, pork chops or chicken. Enjoy.
How to Freeze Pesto
My old friend Kristin grew up on a farm in upstate New York where basil flourished. For a number of years we had a Pesto Cook-Off, that we dubbed the “Questo Pesto Esto Besto Festo”. We always had way too much Pesto. Here is a solution that she clued me into. Make the pesto but eliminate the cheese. Put the pesto into muffin tins, ice cube trays or similar, cover with plastic wrap and freeze. Once frozen, remove from the form and put into a zip lock bag, back into the freezer for that cold winter night when this essence of summer will taste oh so good.