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Pesto made perfect

creato da Elena Guarneri ultima modifica 20/06/2008 15:12

We taste one of Italy's most famous - and best-loved - exports and uncover some royal roots . . .

Pesto alla genovesePesto may have been perfected by the Genoese but its origins are somewhat uncertain. Basil, the sauce's main ingredient, has been used in the area for centuries and was probably imported from Asia or Northern Africa by the English. It's name comes from the Greek word for "king", giving some idea of the plant's importance in former times.

Basil is grown throughout the Mediterranean, but the basil that is grown in Liguria - more precisely in the area between Prà e Pegli - is quite simply (at least according to pesto enthusiasts) the best.

Buying basil
Basil is best bought during summer when it's at its most flavoursome - and cheapest - and you should bulk buy for the winter. Resist the temptation to freeze it as it will lose some of its distinctive flavour. One alternative is to leave it to dry. Once the stalks have lost their moisture remove the leaves and layer them in jars with salt. Finish with a layer of salt and cover with oil. (If you prefer you can crush the leaves before bottling.) Cover the jar with a piece of slate (or close with an air-tight lid) and don't forget to top up with oil each time you use in order to stop air forming between the layers. When you've finished your basil you can use the flavoured oil in salads and dressings.

Pesto sauce
Ingredients (feeds 4):
3 bunches of small-leafed basil
1 clove garlic (or more, according to taste)
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 tablespoon freshly grated Pecorino cheese
1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan cheese
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (use PDO oil from Liguria if you can get your hands on it!)
A pinch of salt

The traditional way of making pesto is with a mortar and pestle (purists insist on a marble mortar and a boxwood pestle). Wash the basil and dry it carefully with a paper towel. Remove the stalks and start to crush in the mortar along with the garlic, pine nuts and salt. (The name pesto comes from the Italian verb pestare which means 'to pound' - however don't be tempted to pound the mixture to a senseless green pulp in the bottom of your mortar preferring to grind the ingredients along the wall of the mortar.) Once you get a thick paste gradually grind in the cheese. Finally whisk in the oil until you have reached your desired consistency. (If you fear your wrist action isn't up to it or you intend making a substantial batch of pesto then you'll be forgiven for taking out your blender - just don't tell your friends.)
Variation: If you find the flavour of your pesto too strong then add some warm water when you are adding it to your pasta.

Pesto with trenette
Pesto is not pesto without trenette (a long, flat ribbon pasta typical of Liguria) or trofie (a homemade twisted pasta), but tagliolini (spaghetti-like noodles) and lasagne are equally delicious. For a really filling meal or extra-ravenous appetites add boiled sliced potatoes and green beans to the sauce.

A word of warning for those of you buying supermarket pesto. Read the list of ingredients carefully before buying as parsley is often used along with basil in supermarket-bought pesto. The price may be lower but believe us, you can taste the difference.

Pesto.net - - All you'll ever need to know about pesto
Pesto on-line - - Buy the real thing online
Liguriafoods.it - - Specialities from Liguria
PDO and PGI - - A full list of PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) products in Italy.

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