Friday, August 8, 2008

Pesto alla Genovese

During my time in Italy I actually ate surprisingly little pesto. Though most supermarkets carried several decent varieties, I almost always preferred to cook with produce from the open markets (I would go to the Papiniano market which is one of the absolute best markets in Milan and makes my local California farmer's market look like a paltry roadside fruit stand - and an overpriced one at that).

I do love pesto however; I mean, anything that contains this much basil pretty much has to be good. But making it fresh, grinding up the basil just minutes before you eat it, increases its goodness by at least a factor of six. If you have never made your own pesto, you have to try it - your tastebuds will thank you for weeks!

The process is simple - basically grind, grind, grind (the word pesto comes from the verb pestare which literally means 'to grind'), but some of the recipes I read were very emphatic that you had to grind things in a certain order. The order I ended up going with seemed to work wonderfully so I'm posting that method below, and if you want to try other ways, I'm pretty sure they will be equally delicious (again, lots and lots of basil - you really can't go wrong).

So, you will need:
A large bunch of nice fresh basil.
A couple cloves of garlic
Good extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly grated parmesan (and when I say freshly grated, I mean really freshly grated - stale parmesan is one of my culinary pet peeves, and in this dish especially you want the full flavor)
Freshly grated pecorino (see above)
Pine nuts
Ground-up walnuts
Sea salt

First you'll need to toast your pine nuts, either in the oven (or better yet, a toaster oven) or in a dry pan on the stove. Watch your pine nuts very carefully to be sure they don't burn! Mine burned a bit here, but luckily not enough to ruin the taste, although I had to throw a few of the really bad ones out. So be careful with your pine nuts! Remove them from the heat as soon as you think they even might be done! Then begins the grinding.

While I don't currently own a mortar and pestle (it's on my list), I used a metal bowl and a wood spoon for the grinding, and it worked just fine. Probably a little more work than if I had the marble, but for good pesto, I don't mind a little extra work at all!

Anyways, begin with the garlic. Not every recipe does this, but I think it worked wonderfully well here so I highly recommend it. Grind till the cloves are good and broken-up and then add the (well-washed and dried) basil leaves. Grind grind grind your basil leaves and savor the incredible aromas that come floating up while you're grinding. One of the best parts of making your own pesto is that it's almost as delicious to make it as it is to eat it!

About halfway through the grinding, add in a bit of olive oil and then continue grind, grind, grinding. When you're almost done, add in the parmesan, the pecorino, the walnuts, the pine nuts, the salt, and as much olive oil as you deem appropriate. While I like the olive oil, I would advise not using too much, as the basil provides a good bit of juice on its own and you want all the flavors to come through.

And that's it! Serve over pasta (or even just bread if you want!) and enjoy very verrrrry much!

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