The power of pesto
My earliest memories of pesto are of the strong pungent type we would occasionally have for lunch from cheap and cheerful Italian restaurants in Soho. The initial gratification was followed by pesto-provoked metabolism malfunctions – leaving an olfactory trail of lunch throughout the office. These pestos were so potent they would stay with you – and your disapproving colleagues – all day long.
However, a well-made, balanced pesto is very delicious – a worthy celebration of basil. Still, there’s a tendency for pesto to overpower. To address this, I often soften the intensity; I might cut my pesto with parsley or use other nuts – such as walnut and go easy on the garlic and Parmesan.
Will the real pesto please stand up…
I have researched and produced a matrix of many (15) pesto recipes – the proportions swing about wildly. Therefore I can confidently assure you that there is no attainable definitive way to make a pesto. Whatever you end-up with will be similar to one that will have been published – or made before. It is essentially a paste of basil, garlic, nuts, cheese and oil. In fact, many recipes try to spin-out themes and variation in search of a distinctive recipe. Herbs other than basil can be substituted or partly mixed, such as, parsley, carrot tops, rocket and mint. Pine nuts can be mixed or substituted with walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, or pistachio. The sauce originates from Genoa in Italy – pesto alla Genovese – and was traditionally made with Sardo pecorino instead of Parmesan. Many recipes will show a half and half mix of pecorino and Parmesan.
NB: We could look to Genoa for an authentic recipe – but no doubt there are as many local Italian variations as there are published recipes in the UK. Apparently the basil in Genoa is far superior to any other basil grown in Italy – so even if we did have the ultimate recipe it would fall short of a true Genovese pesto.
The problem with pasta…
Pasta in the UK is something of an anomaly – in Italy it is served in smaller portions as part of larger multi-course meals. In the UK we have turned the idea of pasta into a simple main course. This practice however has created some awkward issues, such as – how to we get our greens? (I am reminded of a TV cooking contestant on who was sternly chided for serving salad with pasta).
I do not make an issue of this and will happily serve salad – and bread – with our pasta meals. Further, as with this recipe, I will often include vegetables in with the pasta.