Homemade Pesto from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
It's hot outside, so who wants to cook?
After two weeks of daily rain that kept us nice and cool, the sun and heat have returned with a vengeance. Today it reached 90 F, and since most homes here don't have air conditioning, elaborate, heat generating meals aren't high on the to-do list.
Which is what inspired today's recipe of homemade pesto from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. This cookbook, by one of the most famous teachers of Italian cooking, is actually an updated version of two of her previous cookbooks: The Classic Italian Cook Book and More Classic Italian Cooking.
I actually watched a cooking demonstration by Marcella Hazan about fifteen years ago at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival, which as a quick aside, is an absolute must on the foodie's bucket list. (Although, to really enjoy yourself, don't go alone, go with a friend or partner who enjoys food and wine as much as you do.) And as much as I knew about Marcella Hazan, I'd never cooked from this cookbook, which like most of the others, has been in storage for the past fifteen years.
But I digress.
It's interesting that I picked pesto because in general I don't like the stuff. Or rather, I don't like the oily green stuff that comes in a jar on the shelf of the local grocery store. But I do love fresh basil...although, the closest I usually come to fresh basil is as a garnish in my vodka lemonade. yum.
Nothing says summer like fresh basil, with it's lemony green fresh flavor. And since I've been trying to incorporate more meat-less meals into our dinner routine, trying a homemade pesto recipe seemed to fit all the criteria....no cooking (other than the pasta), quick, fresh ingredients, and no meat.
In Essentials, Ms. Hazan generously presents the pesto recipe using two different methods: 1) using a mortar and pestle, or for those without, 2) with a food processor. While I used a food processor, I hope someday to own a nice heavy marble mortar and wooden pestle, so that I can appreciate the 'authentic' pesto.
Here are the basic ingredients that you'll need:
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup extra virgin oil
- 3 tablespoons pine nuts
- 2 or 3 garlic cloves
- sea salt
Assembling the recipe couldn't be easier. You begin by tossing the above ingredients into your food processor and then while it chops, drizzle in the olive oil in a thin stream until a coarse paste is formed.
And then here's where the recipe gets interesting....
Ms. Hazan instructs us to scoop the basil paste into a bowl and incorporate 1/2 cup of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and two tablespoons of romano cheese into the pesto. And then, two - three tablespoons of room temperature butter. BUTTER!!!!!!!!
Quite honestly, I'm not sure why butter is added, other than to add additional richness to the dish. But I'm not arguing with the doyenne of Italian cooking.
I used my pesto to top a batch of potato gnocchi that I started to boil before I assembled the sauce. The gnocchi, while store bought, were incredibly light and fluffy, just like homemade.
And the taste? Has completely changed my mind about pesto. What you taste with this recipe is the basil. Not the oil or garlic or even the cheese. You taste the lovely fresh basil, making it the perfect summer dinner. And given how simple and quick it is to make, literally five minutes from start to finish, buying pesto in a jar just doesn't make sense.....try it!