Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Pesto alla Genovese

     I have a serious love for Italian cuisine. My first introduction to serious Italian food came when I was 19 years old and served a two year mission in Northern Italy for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Consequently, I developed a love for most things Italian, but especially the food.

     This past spring I was shopping for vegetable starts to fill in for a few of the things I had failed to start in a timely fashion.  As I was picking out zucchini and cucumber plants I noticed they had some really healthy looking basil starts.  I had tried to grow basil in the past from seed and it never seemed to prosper due to our less than warm and dry spring weather we get on the wet side of the Cascades,  On a whim (due mainly to my affection for Italian cuisine) I decided to buy a few basil plants.  I bought one green variety and one purple basil plant. My expectations for their success was fairly low, but due to our warmer than usual summer they both did very well.  So here I was with two big healthy basil plants that I didn't want to go to waste. Pesto alla Genovese seemed to be the obvious solution.  I was first exposed to pesto while a missionary in Italy and it was literally love at first bite.

     I am fortunate to have two very good and very large Italian cookbooks. One is written in English and is titled "The Silver Spoon". I found it on sale at Costco as I was browsing through their books.  The other one is written in Italian and is titled "Il Talismano di Felicita", or the Talisman of Happiness. I found this particular treasure at a local used book store for just $9.00. Both books had pesto recipes that were pretty similar. I looked at a few pesto recipes on the internet as well. The only variations of any consequence involved the exact ratio of pine nuts to olive oil and what variety of grating cheese they used. One recipe used a mixture of Parmeson and Pecorino while others used just Pecorino.  The methods used to measure the amount of basil leaves also tended to be a bit ambiguous. The pesto recipe in "The Silver Spoon"considered garlic to be optional.  Personally, I can't imagine making pesto without garlic.  The recipe from "The Talisman of Happiness" was virtually the same as one I printed from the internet except that the directions were more complex.  I decided to save myself the trouble of translating the recipe from Italian and to make it easier on anyone who wants to try their hand at pesto. Therefore I chose to pass on the recipe I found on the internet, courtesy of the Food Network Kitchen. It listed the recipe level as easy and the preparation time as five minutes.  It really is very easy to make, takes very little time, and regardless of the exact ratio of ingredients or specific variety of grating cheese used, it will turn out wonderful the first time you make it.

     I should offer one word of warning. Be prepared for some sticker shock when you go to buy pine nuts.  At our local Fred Myer pine nuts were $40.00 per pound in the bulk bins.  Fortunately, the recipe didn't require very much. I bought 4 ounces of pine nuts and that was enough to make four one cup batches of pesto. That is one cup of pesto prior to the addition of the pecorino cheese.  Since it is so very strongly flavored, a little pesto goes a long way. One cup of pesto plus the cheese is more than enough to flavor pasta for six people. Pesto can be made in larger batches as I did, then frozen in smaller containers that are suitable for one meal. It will only keep for a few days in the fridge, but can be frozen for three months.

     The recipe for Pesto alla Genovese is as follows:

  2 cups of packed basil leaves
  2 cloves garlic
  1/4 cup pine nuts
  2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese

  Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped.
Add 1/2 cup of the olive oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with  salt and pepper.
   If using immediately, add all of the remaining oil and pulse until smooth. Transfer the pesto to a large serving bowl and mix in the cheese.
   If freezing, transfer to an air-tight container and drizzle the remaining oil over the top. Freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw and stir in the cheese.



  1. I'm so excited to try this recipe! Last time I made pesto, I wasn't too thrilled with how it turned out. It wasn't very flavorful, and it browned on the top where it was exposed in the sealed jar. Do you think lemon juice would fix that? Also, I used a blender because I don't have a food processor. I had a hard time with the basil blending well. What do you think I did wrong?

    1. I'm not sure. The blender did a fine job for me on the basil. I'm sure that l;emon juice would help keep the pesto green. You can also try covering the top of the pesto with a little extra olive oil so the chopped basil isn't exposed to the air. That should keep it from browning without any significant change to the flavor. A little lemon flavor might go nicely with pesto.