I used to make pesto so often, anytime we had guests over for dinner, they’d assume I would be serving it. I couldn’t help it – It’s fragrant, tasty, and extremely easy to make. If you tried the spaghetti carbonara recipe I posted, you’ll know when I say something is easy – I mean it!
Pesto originates from Genoa (Genova in Italian) in Liguria. One of my Italian professors at university was from Genoa and she would tell us stories about how as soon as you land at the airport you can smell the fragrant basil in the air. How wonderful is that?! So one summer when Kevin came to visit me in Italy, we took the train to Cinque Terre in Liguria and I had my very first plate of pesto alla genovese. It was delicious and I try to replicate that exact dish whenever I make it at home.
I try to use real Italian ingredients when I can – pine nuts from Italy, olive oil from Liguria, and trofie pasta. You know how it’s normal to bring home souvenirs when you travel abroad? Well normal for me is bringing home items from supermarkets. The last time I came home from an Italian holiday, I brought home dried ceci beans, canellini beans, regional dried pastas like trofie (Liguria), pici (Toscana), malloreddus (Sardegna), pine nuts, peperoncino…you name it, it was in my suitcase! Of course, only things that are accepted at customs. 😉 It’s been two years since my last visit, so I’m pretty much out of everything. Luckily you can find good Italian products now in the states, and when you can’t you can always substitute. (I didn’t have any Italian pine nuts so I used pine nuts I picked up at Trader Joe’s.)
You can toss the ingredients into a food processor, as most people do these days. But I use the old school method and make it in a pestle and mortar. I mean, it’s called pesto (pestare – to pound, to crush) for a reason. In my opinion, the extra time you put into making the sauce the traditional way, the better the sauce turns out!
200g trofie pasta
basil, 2 handfuls
pine nuts, 2 large pinches
200g french beans
2 cloves garlic
parmiggiano reggiano, grated
Toast pine nuts in a pan on the stove and set aside. Grate parmiggiano reggiano and set aside. Roughly chop basil and garlic. Trim french beans and cut into bite size pieces, about the same length as the trofie pasta. Peel potatoes and boil in salted water, when cooked through, drain and set aside.
Add the chopped garlic, chopped basil, a couple pinches of sea salt and a few grinds of pepper into a pestle and mortar. Bash it up until all the basil is bruised. Add in the pine nuts and bash it up some more.
Take the basil/pine nut mixture and put it into a large bowl. Add in grated parmiggiano reggiano cheese, mix. Add in a good amount of olive oil, mix. (You can do all of this in the same pestle and mortar without transferring into a large bowl. I like to transfer the basil mixture and complete the sauce in a separate bowl because my pestle and mortar is on the smaller side.)
Cooking time for the trofie pasta I used was 18-20 mins. So at the 15 minute mark, I added in the french beans. Cook together with pasta. When the pasta is done, drain. Reserve a cup of the cooking liquid. Add in the pasta and french beans to the pesto sauce. Add in a bit of the cooking liquid to loosen the sauce and help coat the pasta. Add in the boiled potatoes. Toss together until all the ingredients are coated in the sauce.
Another great pasta recipe to try, especially if you grow basil at home – those plants grow so well! Once you make fresh pesto at home, you won’t ever turn to the pesto sauce in the jar.