First basil. Pesto, of course. Ligurian style.
Fresh basil (Red Wagon Organic Farm) has arrived in a big way, and of course that means pesto. I’ve made it the same way since the late ’70s, always using some variation of Marcella’s then-daring “Blender Pesto” from The Classic Italian Cookbook. This two volume opus, now out of print, was the Italian Mastering the Art of French Cooking that taught Americans that there was more to Italian cusine than red sauce and pizza. Happily, both volumes have been combined, updated, and extended as Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. Comprehensive and wonderful, this is certainly the one must-have Italian cookbook written in English.
In Liguria the pasta is usually cooked with a potato, which is diced and served with the dish, often with green beans. I used the first potatoes of the season from Monroe Farm, but omitted the beans this time in order to keep it simple.
Pesto Ligurian Style
- 2 cups basil leaves, packed
- 3/8 – 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 Tb pine nuts
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
- 2 Tb pecorino Romano, grated
- salt, 2 Tb butter
- a handful of small potatoes
- pasta, about one pound
Chop garlic fine, add garlic, basil, pine nuts, and olive oil to a blender or food processor. Process until blended but not too smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Marcella adds salt and a full 1/2 cup oil; I omit the salt and use a bit less oil. The pecorino adds a nice sharp note, but don’t hesitate to substitute an equal amount of parmesan if you don’t have a well-stocked refrigerator.
Fettuccine is classic (called trenette in Liguria), but spagetti works well also. Chop potatoes roughly into bite-size pieces. Cook pasta and potatoes in salted water until pasta is al dente. Drain, add butter and pesto and toss to coat, then add most of the cheese, reserving a little for the table. Toss once more, and serve immediately.