Thursday, April 15, 2010

Presto, pesto!

Life has never been the same once I learned (by heart) Marcella Hazan's basil pesto recipe from her seminal tome The Classic Italian Cookbook. It is the classic of the classics and the very first pesto recipe I had ever encountered waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when.  These days I make pesto in every imaginable configuration- substituting all kinds of herbs and nuts and combinations there-of for the traditional basil and pine nuts, but retaining the tried and true proportions of herb to nut to garlic to olive oil. The results are always happy, which just encourages my wayward instincts.  The real payoff for me is that ALL four kids in my household will actually eat pesto in all its mutations and THAT alone is worth getting happy over.
I like to mix vegetables in with the pasta and the pesto, steaming them in the same water I cook the pasta in. Some good choices are broccoli, peas, green bean, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini.

The family was all home and hungry this week when I looked in the fridge to find spinach and parsley. Perfect. Went for it. Replaced the pine nuts with pepitas and we were good to go. Dinner in minutes and everybody ate!
My friend Dawn in Brookfield, CT. gets a head start growing her own pesto herbs from seed. 

Classic Pesto
by Marcella Hazan (& substitutes by ME):

-2 cloves garlic, crushed with side of knife (there is no substitute for garlic!)
2 Tbs  pine nuts- I generally use more (pepitas, pecans, walnuts, cashews, macadamia)

-1 teas. salt
-2 cups fresh basil lightly packed (spinach, parsley, arugula, cilantro)
-1/2 cup of olive oil- I generally use LESS
-1/2 cup freshly grated parmesean cheese

-2 Tbs. Romano pecorino cheese
-3 Tbs. Butter, soft- I NEVER put this in, seems unnecessary to me

Place the garlic, nuts, salt and basil and half the olive oil in a food processor in that order,start to process and as the machine is running, slowly drizzle in enough of the remaining olive oil to  get a smooth paste. Remove pesto to a small bowl and beat in the cheese and butter (if using) by hand. If serving pesto over pasta ladle in a few tablespoons of the pasta water into the pesto to thin in out a bit before tossing over the pasta.

I never thought of making pasta with pesto for my children. At ages 4 1/2 and 6, they still shy away from anything green. It makes for very difficult food preparation! Though my son does love salad, thankfully. If only they would try pesto,I know they would love it. What's not to love?

I am going to make a point of trying this pesto recipe with macadamia nuts. My favorite! And I can't wait for my basil to start growing in abundance! I started it from seeds, as I did parsley. So I should have no shortage of pesto this summer.

White or red would work just fine with this recipe, including any and all versions! Just depends upon your mood. In particular, there are many styles and varieties of whites that would be delicious with pesto. Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, Albarino. My inclination would be to look towards Italy for the perfect match. Vermentino. Currently grown in several Mediterranean countries, it is most commonly associated with Northern Italy, specifically Liguria and the island of Sardinia. The wines are crisp, citrusy with bright acidity. For an afternoon lunch on a warm Spring day, I would lean towards white. It is a refreshing wine, and will also pair very well with a variety of vegetables as well as seafood.

I recently tried the Casanova della Spinetta Toscana Vermentino 2009 (their first vintage) and it was spectacular! It is medium-bodied with flavors of peach and apricot on the palate. Just so enjoyable and very affordable ($15.99)

For red, I would choose something with a bit of old world earthiness, such as a Rosso di Montalcino. The earthy quality of the wine would do well next to the pesto. Rosso di Montalcino is made from 100% Sangiovese, and is considered to be the younger sibling to Brunello. You can enjoy the Rosso with a variety of cheeses as well. This stunning Sangiovese is a little pricier (but well worth it) at around $21.99. Argiano is a great producer to go to for incredible, classic Tuscan wines.


  1. Pepita nuts!! Recently had lettuce pesto some place. It was used as a sauce with field mushroom ravioli....pretty interesting and way off script - no nuts!

  2. Amanda's comment about never considering serving pesto to her kids reminded me of something I had not thought of in years. When my daughter Frances (now almost 13) was perhaps a year old, we prepared baby food for her, and kept it frozen in ice cube trays for our part-time nanny to serve her while we were off at work. Ingrid reported that Frances was particularly partial to the green food. It was of course pesto, which she had been eating straight-up.

  3. Every child I have ever cooked for (many) loves pesto for some reason!

  4. OK! You sold me! I will make my kids try it over the weekend! I know they would love it if they tried it. It's just getting them to overlook the fact that it's green!


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