It feels like years since I first sampled and learned about Pestos .
Actually, it HAS been years and they have flown by, but I remember it like yesterday and it was one of things a beautiful lady taught me that reached my soul and sparked something that would someday change my life.
She was a friend named Sally who re-introduced me to cooking with the freshest ingredients and actually preparing dishes that would take hours/days (she made her own gelatin…yes, from the bones!), and Julia Child was her idol. I was like, “Who’s that?” Sally reintroduced what my Grandmother taught me about food on their huge farm in Wisconsin in the Summers of my youth where life truly was farm to table. They raised everything they needed and bartered with neighbors for what they didn’t have.
But, this part is about Pestos…
Per Wikipedia, in 1863, Giovanni Batista Ratto’s book, La Cuciniera Genevese had a basic recipe:
“Take a clove of garlic, basil or, when that is lacking, marjoram and parsley, grated Dutch and Parmigiano cheese and mix them with pine nuts and crush it all together in a mortar with a little butter until reduced to a paste. Then dissolve it with good and abundant oil.
Pesto is traditionally prepared in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle. First, garlic and pine nuts are placed in the mortar and reduced to a cream, then the washed and dried basil leaves are added with coarse salt and ground to a creamy consistency. Only then is a mix of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino added. To help incorporate the cheese a little extra-virgin olive oil is added.
This is pretty much the recipe Sally taught me and (except for the butter), I make it every year, freeze little containers!
But you can substitute so many different herbs, nuts, hard cheeses and other spices that the flavor combinations are endless! Giovanni did it too with marjoram and parsley when basil wasn’t available. Because you don’t always know the exact flavor/pungency of the fresh herbs, you might need to take little tastes along the way ☺, adding a little more of the other ingredients to get the flavor you want. It’s a fun process for my students when teaching about herbs and tastings.
Here’s a basic Basil Pesto recipe with substitutions options and uses, but the opportunities are endless!!
In a mortar (or if you don’t have one, mini food processor), place 4 oz basil leaves, 1 oz pine nuts, 2 peeled garlic cloves, a large pinch of coarse salt and crush to a paste with the pestle. Work in 2 oz of freshly grated Parmesan (or Pecorino Romano). Gradually add about 4 oz extra virgin olive oil (the good one), working it in thoroughly with a spoon to make a thick, creamy sauce.
It will keep in a canning jar in the fridge for a few weeks, or you can freeze it in little containers for a year.
A few uses: Put a dollop in soup; fill cherry tomatoes with it as is, or mix with a little goat cheese and stuff or spread it on crackers; and toss with cooked linguine-using a little pasta water to make a delicious sauce.
Delicious substitutions: Hazelnuts, Almonds, Pecans for the Pine Nuts; Sage for the Basil (or Sage with the basil); Parsley pesto is great; Cilantro, Mint, Lemon Thyme, Marjoram, Oregano, etc.
It’s a wonderful way to spruce up the flavors of so many dishes!!
Here’s a pesto we prepared for clients this week and used it in the following dish:
Summer Herb Pesto
½ c parsley leaves, packed in cup
¼ c mint leaves, packed
¼ c basil leaves, packed
½ cup toasted sliced almonds
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Mash together in mortar and pestle or mix together in food processor, taste and adjust seasonings.
Shrimp, Sugar Snap Peas & Penne with Summer Herb Pesto & Ricotta
Coarse salt and ground pepper
3/4 pound penne rigate
1 pound medium-large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 cup Summer Herb Pesto2-3 cups snap peas
¼ c grated Parmesan
4-6 ounces ricotta (2/3 cup)
Extra-virgin olive oil and additional grated Parmesan, for serving
In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook pasta according to package instructions. In last 3-4 minutes of cooking (check pasta to see if close to done), add shrimp and snap peas and cook until shrimp are opaque throughout and peas are bright green. Reserve 1 cup pasta water; drain pasta mixture and return to pot. Add pesto and toss to coat, adding enough pasta water to create a thin sauce that coats pasta. Stir in ¼ c Parmesan, toss and place in serving dish.
Top with ricotta. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with Parmesan.
Optional: Top with toasted sliced almonds & fresh chopped parsley.
I hope you enjoy. Remember that food has the ability to change people’s lives, one tasty tidbit at a time.