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Fat Guy

Pesto Basics

51 posts in this topic

If anywhere near U Giancu in Rapallo (http://www.ugiancu.it), stop in for pesto, the best I've ever had. Chef Fausto also gives lessons, and is a wonderful character. Their version is with pasta, potato and green beans, a classic combination in Liguria.

With a reference version in mind, one has to go by taste. Pesto comes from both Nice and Genova, from when they were one region predating either France or Italy. The classic Ligurian recipe tends to be lightened with some fresh cheese, for which one can improvise liberally. Fausto has various booklets available from Europe; Ogni Volta Che Cucina calls for "4 bunches of basil; 2 cloves of garlic; 1 tablespoon of pine nuts; a handful of grated parmesan cheese; 5 tablespoons of olive oil; 100 grams of curd cheese; a little coarse salt."

Affordable pine nuts invariably come from China, with a liberal species definition leading to mild poisonings where everything tastes like metal for two weeks. (Google "pine mouth.") Use Italian pine nuts, which taste better, or substitute.

I vividly recall friends in Genova clutching bunches of basil from the market, for pesto. These were infant plants by U.S. standards. They delicately put it to me that pesto from my country tastes like lawn clippings, because of the enormous plants we use. One is supposed to grow the basil from seed, thinning for pesto until the thicket gets too large to use. In the California summer I ring half wine barrel planters with spray misting hose (as used to cool off outside) programmed through our garden irrigation system, to grow pesto basil from seed. We don't eat pesto out of season, though we do freeze basil in oil to make pesto for soupe au pistou.

Ligurians are also pretty adamant about using a mortar and pestle, which has a fundamentally different effect than a food processor. A Thai mortar and pestle (as popularized by Jamie Oliver, for example) is perfect.


Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"

Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

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