Now that there are several pounds of peeled, quartered local peaches tucked into the freezer, I can turn my attention to making basil pesto. I hesitate to call it pesto alla Genoese (literally Genoa-style paste) because the purists are rigorous that the ingredients in this renowned condiment be basil and olive oil grown only in the region of Liguria. There’s even a Consorzio dedicated to its preservation.
Another issue is the grinding method. In Liguria, traditionalists crush the tender herb leaves, garlic, and pine nuts in a marble mortar with an olive wood pestle.
In his book Recipes from Paradise: Life and Food on the Italian Riviera, Fred Plotin writes, “A mortar and pestle mashes while the food processor or blender grinds. The flavors of herbs and nuts, their oils and essences, are released in a unique way that cannot be equaled in a machine.” He does go on to say that many cooks in Liguria use a blender but acknowledge that the pesto is not as good.
I priced a 7-inch-wide marble mortar and pestle on the Williams-Sonoma store site. At a cost of $99.95, I don’t think it’s going to be in my kitchen anytime soon. Less expensive rough granite models exist—from Mexico and Thailand—so I’ll be on the lookout for a good buy.
For now, however, I need to pick my basil before it goes to flower. I’ll make a double batch of pesto alla Pennsylvaniana. In January, it will taste like heaven even if it’s not quite Ligurian.
Makes about 2 cups
Poaching the garlic makes this pesto mellow but using raw garlic cloves is the classic choice.
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small head garlic, cloves peeled
2 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves, divided (see note)
1 cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley leaves, divided (see note)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) pine nuts, blanched walnuts, or raw almonds, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
1 cup (4 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
In a glass measuring cup, combine the oil and the garlic. Cover with waxed paper. Microwave for 30 seconds. Reduce the setting to low; microwave for 1 minute, or until bubbly and fragrant. Allow to cool to room temperature.
In a food processor, combine half of each of these ingredients: the basil, parsley, pine nuts, salt, and garlic oil. Pulse 20 times or until coarsely chopped. Scrape the sides of the bowl. Process for about 2 minutes or until a coarse paste forms. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Transfer to the bowl. Stir in the Parmesan and the Pecorino Romano.
Spoon the pesto in mounds (1/4 or 1/2 cup are convenient amounts) onto a plastic wrap-lined tray. Place in the freezer for several hours, or until solid. Transfer the pesto mounds to a plastic freezer bag. Return to the freezer for up to 6 months.
Pasta with Basil Pesto: Cook 1 pound pasta until al dente. Reserve 3/4 cup cooking water. Drain the pasta and return to the cooking pot. Add 1/2 cup of frozen pesto and enough of the water to moisten the sauce. Season lightly with salt if needed.
Note: Because I grow basil and parsley without pesticides, I never wash it but rather wipe off any visible dirt with a paper towel. If you feel you must wash the leaves, dip them gently in cold water and pat dry before making the pesto.