From Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan
If I didn’t bring it up, chances are none of you would notice that we slacked off and failed to deliver the May edition of “try a new grocery vendor every month.” But I’m too honest for my own good, and it’s been bugging me for precisely 7 days – ever since we missed the May 31 deadline. And to make matters worse, our June is looking 100 times busier than our May, so I started to worry that I wouldn’t have anything to post for this month either. But then it hit me, I don’t need to trek out to a new store this month, I have the original grocery store in my own backyard (well, back deck…this is the city after all) — our herb garden!
So this month I’m doing a little tribute to home grown food. I’m kicking it off with the quintesential herb-based dish – pesto. Our basil is growing like a weed, and I was looking for a recipe that would use up a bunch of it. I started by browsing the internet, but searching for “basil recipes” is a bit vague, to say the least. After a wasted hour or two it hit me that I have the ultimate Italian cookbook sitting on a shelf in my kitchen. After hungrily plowing through recipes I was torn between a tomato basil sauce and a classic pesto, but the pesto just felt right for the introduction of herb season.
Now, if you’ve never cooked a Marcella recipe before, you should know that she’s a bit…specific, to put it kindly. Her commentary alone is worth purchasing the book. In every recipe she speaks frankly about the adulteration of true Italian cooking over the years, presumably by Americans. In the case of pesto she is appalled by the plethora of recipes suggesting greens other than basil, nuts other than pine nuts, and essentially the addition of any seasoning other than garlic, salt, and quality cheese. I’ll be the first to admit that I have committed the apparently grave sin of making such counterfeit pesto in my day, but I also can’t deny the greatness of the original recipe. This one is particularly luscious, and thanks to pesto’s freezing ability I think a large portion of my basil crop will find its way into this gem.
- 2 cups tightly packed fresh basil
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 3 Tbsp pine nuts, toasted
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- large pinch of salt, plus more to taste
- 1/2 cup parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
- 2 Tbsp romano cheese, grated
- 3 Tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
- 1 lb pasta
- Wash the basil and dry thoroughly – you wouldn’t want to water down your sauce.
- Put basil, olive oil, pine nuts, chopped garlic and big pinch of salt into a food processor. Pulse until uniform and creamy.
- Transfer basil mixture to a bowl.
- Stir in cheese until amalgamated.
- Stir in softened butter. It helps to do this with a wooden spoon so you can kind of smush the butter around until it’s thoroughly mixed in.
- Set pesto aside.
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1-2 tablespoons of cooking water.
- Marcella says that pesto should NEVER be heated. Instead, she stirs 1-2 tablespoons of the piping hot pasta water into the pesto to warm it a little. Also, cooking the pasta last, instead of letting it sit in the strainer while you make the pesto, will allow the pesto to warm on contact with the hot pasta.
Note: If you would like to freeze the pesto, stop at the end of step 3. Freeze it without the cheese or butter. When you want to use it, thaw it out (shouldn’t take too long) and then add the cheese and butter before serving.