cucina bene; mangia bene (Genoese Pesto)
Since Bruce has been providing such great instruction on olive oil, I though it would be good to provide some recipes for sauces that use olive oil. One that comes to mind is Pesto: the classic northern Italian sauce made with basil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and extra virgin olive oil or Genoese pesto. The region in Italy where pesto comes from is Liguria (Genoa is the capital of the region) which is on the northwestern side of the country—very close to France. The olive oils from Liguria are very light and are perfect for basil pesto. The Ligurians grow many herbs in their region and are best known for their basil which is very delicate. Genoese pesto is traditionally served with a type of handmade pasta called trofie, boiled potatoes, and green beans. It is a very frugal dish as the region was very poor, but like all peasant dishes, is rich in flavor.
The sauce was traditionally made in a mortar and pestle. The word ‘pesto’ actually means pestle and represents more of the technique as opposed to the sauce itself. Anyway, today, most pesto’s are made in a food processor which provides more of a pureed consistency as opposed to a more coarse and chunky consistency when made in a mortar and pestle. The picture below represents the difference between the two methods….see if you can tell which is which.
Give up? The container on the right holds the pesto that was made in a food processor. See how bright green it is? That’s because the basil was pureed instead of bruised. Many chefs (myself included) think a pesto made in a mortar and pestle is superior in flavor over a sauce that has been made in a food processor. Try it for yourself with the recipe below:
Ingredients (makes 2 cups):
1/2 lb. basil leaves
3 garlic cloves
1 1/2 tbs. toasted pine nuts
Salt to taste
Cracked black pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
If using a mortar and pestle, add all the ingredients except the oil a little at a time to the mortar and grind with the pestle. Add a little olive oil at a time to work it in, and then add more of the dry ingredients. it helps if the basil and the garlic are coarsely chopped first. Continue adding the ingredients and olive oil until all is incorporated and the mixture has become a thick sauce. If using a food processor, add all dry ingredients and pulse, then drizzling a little olive oil at a time, pulse until the mixture has become a thick sauce.
Pesto has all kinds of uses: it can top a nice sear-roasted piece of salmon or tuna; it can be tossed with hot linguine, it can be mixed with more olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice to make a salad dressing, it can be used as a topping for a vegetable soup (minestrone), or it can be served with sundried tomatoes and fresh mozzarella for a ‘winter’ version of Caprese salad. Pesto is very versatile and different herbs can be used in place of basil: parsley, cilantro, mint, or marjoram. Even vegetables can be used such as tomatoes, artichokes, eggplant, mushrooms, or peas. There is no limit to the variations that can be made as long as the ‘pesto’ technique is used. In my next post, we’ll explore another olive oil-based sauce: Bagna Cauda or hot bath. A presto!