Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pesto for Peter

Have I ever told you that at one time in my life I did not care much for Italian food? Seriously! I really did not care for it! Oh I liked pizza! That was always good. But pastas... Meehhhh. Marinara bored me and was just not very good. Pesto was horrific. Alfredo was good for about one bite and then felt heavy. They were just there and never fabulous. And really the only thing I thought of as Italian was pasta and pizza. That was in high school. And then I went to Italy the summer after Junior year! Oh boy! Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy! I could not get enough. After eating so much I was nearly comatosed at lunch, I lay there and counted the hours until dinnertime. I adored the pasta. I loved the pasta in France, Austria and Switzerland too!

My tastes must have changed. So I came back to the US ready to embrace Italian food and slurp it up with gusto. But the next time I had spaghetti... Meehhh! Blah, boring, blech, nadda. I was not interested. What was the difference? Why did I like it there?

It didn't take long to figure it out. Here at home I was used to mostly marinara sauce from a jar and dry pasta that was cooked a bit longer than the proper al dente. Or places like the Old Spaghetti Factory. It isn't horrible food there or anything but it is so... American? Or? Just not like the tiny little restaurants I frequented in Italy. In Italy, it was all very fresh, very good ingredients. The sauces were often simple but you could taste the ingredients and they did not overpower the noodles. The pasta was al dente.... just the right amount of bite to it and not the limp kind I was accustomed to. The portions were also smaller. Pasta is not the MAIN course but a small first plate. I don't want a huge portion of pasta normally.

Now I think you can find decent pasta at restaurants sometimes. Americans started catching on to the fact that the pasta should be al dente. Home chefs often began making their own sauces. It is definitely better. But it will never be the same as in Italy... How could it?

So when I make pasta, I always make my own sauces. It is really quite easy and doesn't take much longer than opening up a jar. I do use the dry noodles most of the time. It is easier to just have it on hand. My Italian friends use them. It is just important not to cook them too long. Once in a while I even use a jar of pre-prepared marinara or red sauce. It is palatable. But I can rarely leave it alone. I almost always doctor it up. Unless I am just making it for the kids. But when it comes to pesto sauce, I have tried jar after jar after jar and really I can barely stand to eat a bite. It is never good. I went back to the supposition that I really just don't care for pesto. Until I made my own! What else was I to do with some sad wilted basil?

After I whirred together a few simple fresh ingredients, I stirred it into some homemade pasta from my farmer's market. The pasta was warm and perfectly al dente. I took a bite. My eyes closed. Imagine a chorus of Alleluias swirling my head. This was heavenly! And so easy!

Simple Fresh Pesto

2-3 cups fresh basil leaves
2-6 cloves of garlic (I like a lot so I use 5 or 6 cloves)
2-3 Tbls. pine nuts
1/4-1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan

Olive Oil (amount is determined by what consistency you prefer)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, blend the basil, garlic, pine nuts and Parmesan. With the processor going, slowly add the olive oil scraping down the sides occasionally. Keep adding the oil until the pesto is the consistency you desire.

At this point I taste the sauce and decide if it needs more garlic, nuts, basil or cheese. Add and adjust to your taste along with the salt and pepper.

Best if used immediately but it should store in the refridgerator for up to a week. But really it is better right away. I do not heat it directly on the stove. Simply stir it into warm pasta. Or put it on top of some bread or pizza or an egg or a sandwich or... I am sure there are many things it would work well with.

I am dedicating this pesto to my friend Peter (and Kimberly) because I wish this is what I had made for him and Kimberly when I brought food over a few weeks ago. Instead I brought some curry soup that I felt was just not up to par. Not sure what was wrong with it.

So Kimberly, please try this for your husband. It is easy!


That Girl said...

This is going to sound so "Betty Crocker" of me but I've never had pesto from a jar. We didn't grow up with pesto, so the first time I used it I assumed it was something you had to make yourself! It was so easy (and froze so well) I never got into the jar stuff.

MamaGeek @ Works For Us said...

I'll admit it, I'm still salivating at your donut post.

This, again, sounds so divine.

melissa said...

I totally heard the chorus of angels hahahahaha. Awesome.

I never had pesto in my entire life until I made it at home about 6 months ago. What a revelation.

And I know what you mean about Italian-America food. I was really ehhhh about Italian most of my life because of mediocre cooking. So cool to find someone else who didn't like it the way I didn't! But then I started learning on my own and everything changed. Yay!

Sherry said...

Another recipe to add to my "some day..." file. :)

Proud Italian Cook said...

I'm so glad you converted! Just look at you now!!

Joie de vivre said...

Fresh pastas in Italy too instead of dried! Oh your fresh pesto though! Oh that looks good.

Robin Sue said...

Nicole that looks so good and sounds so easy to make. I love pine nuts in my pesto too.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad you came to your senses LOL
The pesto looks wonderful!

My Carolina Kitchen said...

Normally I'm not a fan of pesto but you make it look so appealing. Great photos too.

chefectomy said...

Hard to imaging you didn't like it. Really nice Nick.


Nicole said...

Thank you all for the positive comments. I am sorry I have not responded personally to each of you. It has been busy.

Abby said...

I love pesto and have been counting down the days until there is basil growing around here ... maybe even on my own patio!

And agreed. Pasta in Italy is THE BEST. (That and their pizza. Oh, yum.)

Lori Lynn said...

Yup. I think that is pretty much the way it is with all cuisines. You have to taste it the real authentic freshly made with local ingredients, and bingo! There is the magic. Your pesto sounds so good!

Larry said...

Although I've always loved pastas, I have to agree with you on the "jar" concept, which is just not the right way to do it! I stress in many of my blog entries that making it fresh is actually very easy. I can get a pasta on the table in under an hour, and it's fresh and good.

I did a pesto last weekend that turned out very tasty. In addition to the basics, I added some dry jack cheese in addition to the parmesan, and tossed in a handful of fresh arugula leaves. Yummy!

Nice column! Larry.

taste memory said...

ya know ~ i can already taste that pesto! so simple + so fabulous!

Nicole said...

Abby- Food in Italy is the best! :)

Lori Lynn- Fresh does seem to be key. I love love love everything fresh.

Larry- Welcome to my blog. I am glad you like it. I am going to check yours out now.

Taste Memory- You are the queen of making the simple fabulous!

Absolutely Not Martha said...

pesto is my fave--this looks absolutely delicious!

Nicole said...

Thank you, Martha!