~ Portofino Harbor, Liguria ~

 

Liguria is gorgeous.  This narrow provincial strip of land that borders Tuscany and Piedmont, in addition to boasting the Cinque Terre and Portofino,  is home to one of the greatest culinary marvels in all of Italy, indeed the world:  Pesto alla Genovese.   This scrumptious condimento for pasta has its roots in the Basil that is grown in every window box that adorns Ligurian homes and in every home’s garden.  It screams summer and is always a favorite of mine.  Each year I grow dozens of basil plants so that Pesto can appear on my family’s table throughout the summer.  Here is my recipe.  

 

~ Classic Pesto alla Genovese has but 5 ingredients and here they are:  Cheese, Olive Oil, Basil, Garlic, and Pine Nuts ~
Pesto alla Genovese
 
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
1 large clove garlic
5 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano
5 tablespoons Pecorino Romano
1 Cup Basil, tightly packed (2 bunches)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper  
 
In about 1 teaspoon of olive oil,  lightly toast the pine nuts.  This will take no more than 1-2 minutes over medium heat so don’t get distracted.  Pine nuts are expensive and if you burn them, it will ruin the taste of your pesto.  A word on the Pine Nuts: Don’t skimp here.  Look at the label and identify the source of your nuts. Many pine nuts are coming from China these days and I’ve noticed when I’ve purchased these that they run a very high risk of being rancid. You can find pine nuts from Italy and/or the EU easily, so do take the time to look.

 

~ Note the light color on the nuts.  When done, remove from heat ~
 
Add the cheese, basil, pine nuts, garlic clove, and olive oil to a food processor and pulse lightly until combined.  If you want to be a masochist, eschew the food processor and use a mortar and pestle, but I don’t own one and that will add considerable time to your task!  Once the mixture comes together, it’ll resemble a thick paste.  Transfer to a bowl and season with pepper.  The cheese adds considerable salinity to the dish, so I don’t use any salt.  This can be done several hours in advance if you like.  Just cover the pesto and refrigerate until you’re ready to make the pasta. 

 

~ Here’s what the paste looks like right from the food processor.  You don’t want to puree it.  Just zap it slowly and leave some rustic chunks behind ~
 
Pesto is typically eaten with a long, wide noodle in Liguria called Trenette.  If you can’t find Trenette, the next best substitute would be Fettucine.  Linguine and Spaghetti work well too.  For this dish, I used Bucatini.  Ligurians sometimes toss green beans and potatoes into this dish.  That is a classic adaptation,  but I chose to use the stripped down method for this recipe.  
Cook your pasta until just one minute short of al dente.  Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water.  In a sauce pan large enough to hold the pasta,   whisk the pasta water into the pesto paste that you made earlier and warm over the lowest of flames.

 

~ This is the “re-constituted” Pesto. It almost looks creamy and it’s sublime ~

 

Drain the pasta and toss into the pesto, stir to combine and warm through for 1 minute so that pasta absorbs the flavor from the pesto.   

 

~ Warming the Bucatini with the Pesto just before serving ~
 
Finally,  plate the pasta using extra pine nuts and more basil for garnish.  Pass additional cheese at the table. Maybe a slight drizzle of fine Ligurian olive oil? 

 

~ The Chef’s Plate:  Don’t be fooled by the lack of green color.  It’s darker than it looks and the flavors are vibrant and scream summer! ~

 

What to drink?  Pesto is the one dish where I absolutely must have a crisp white wine.  This time, we opted for the newly released 2013 Campochiarenti Vernaccia di San Gimignano.   This light golden wine is packed with lemon oil, white flowers, and minerals on the nose that are persistent and lovely.  As Campochiarenti’s Vernaccia ages,  it picks up more aromas and saline notes,  but this was fresh and lively.  Flavors follow through on the palate with refreshing acidity and clean lively flavors.  The wine is throwing a substantial sediment, so while I wouldn’t decant,  just be warned and pour carefully.  This is delicious and married perfectly with the dish.  88 points,  about $10 Euro.  Soon to be imported to the US!  Bravo Daniele! 

 

~ 2013 Campochiarenti Vernaccia di San Gimignano ~

Salute!

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