By Elisabetta Ciardullo Criel
Pesto is a divine concoction that was invented in Liguria, and that made this tiny region of Italy famous in the whole world.
Pesto is now a sauce readily available in all US supermarkets but make no mistake: it is so easy to be prepared at home with fresh ingredients that is way, way better to learn how to make it from scratch instead of buying it ready-made. Fresh basil, the man ingredient, has incredible amounts of polyphenolic flavonoids, which make you more resistant to free radicals. And Extra Virgin Olive Oil is one of the most important key ingredients of the Mediterranean Diet: this very simple sauce is in itself the quintessence of the healthy eating habits we are all looking to find without compromising on quality and taste.
The variety of the Basil that you can find in Liguria is very special: Liguria is a land squeezed between the mountains and the sea, therefore all the farming used to be in terraces. Water was (and is) scarce, and for this reason as well the variety of the basil cultivated in Liguria has very small leaves, with a concentrated aroma. Unless you grow your own basil (but be advised: you will need a lot!) you will not find this variety at the grocery store nor at the farmer’s market, the basil you can buy here is sweet basil, with very large, aromatic leaves, but it will serve our purpose all the same.
Pesto sauce has a cousin in the Southern France “pistou”, a sauce which also uses basil as main ingredient but has a very different taste, as it does not include the use of pine nuts. But of course, there are a lot of similarities with the cuisine of our neighbors!
Traditionally, the Pesto had to be made in a mortar, and the basil leaves had to be “squeezed” with the pestle. I completely understand if your life is too busy to spend an hour making pesto – as I do the same, I use a food processor. The only trick is that you have to make a big quantity, otherwise the blades will not have enough to process. But rest assured, once you start making your own pesto you will discover that it has so many different uses that it literally disappears in a blink.
- 4 cups (approx. 100 gr or 3&1/2 OZ) tightly packed rinsed and dried pesto leaves (Trader Joe’s sells large packages of organic pesto leaves for a very affordable price
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1/3 C (approx. 40 grams) Parmigiano, grated (make sure it is the real one, it is so different from the imitations!)
- 1/3 C (approx. 40 grams) Pecorino, grated – now we have many kinds of Pecorino = sheep milk aged cheese. If you find it, use Tuscan pecorino, if not pecorino from Sardinia, if not Roman pecorino. If you want to skip the pecorino altogether because too salty or too sharp, just use double weight of parmigiano)
- 2 (approx.25 gr) – or 3 or 4, following your own taste! – tablespoons Pine nuts
- 1/2 cup Italian extra virgin olive oil + more to cover the Pesto
NOTE: as with most Italian recipe there are not quantities written in stone; you can adjust following your own taste!
Put all the ingredients except the EV Olive oil in the food processor and mix until everything is finely cut; add the olive oil a little at the time, keep pulsing until everything is incorporated and well mixed together; the result is almost creamy. Add salt, or more pine nuts following your taste.
Transfer to a clean and dry glass jar, making sure there are no air pockets; cover the whole surface with oil; close the lid tightly and refrigerate.
Every time you use a spoon or two of Pesto sauce, make sure you cover the leftover surface with extra virgin olive oil. It will seal off the air, help avoiding oxidation and color change, and make your pesto sauce last longer.
It can be kept one week in the refrigerator.
How to Use Pesto:
Of course, with Trofie – the handmade pasta shape of Liguria, for which it was invented
As a spread for sandwiches
As a base for Mayo (homemade mayo of course, no processed food!)
As an add-on for grilled vegetables, or for soup, or for roasted meats
And so much more!
Buon Appetito, Elisabetta