Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pesto, Pesto, where for art thou Pesto?

Pesto made its debut in America in a Sunset Magazine in the late 40’s. However, Fresh basil wasn’t really available in the mega mart until the lat 70’s. Thus Pesto did not really take off until the YUPPIE era in the 80’s.
Now there are many different variations on this theme, from ingredients to methods. And while a Pistachio, Mint, Myzithra, Kalamata Olive oil Pesto or Cilantro, Lime, Queso Asadero, Walnut Pesto are delicious. Still nothing takes the place of the original Basil, Garlic, Pinenut, Grana Padano (or Pecorino Romano, or Parmagiano-Reggiano) concoction of Genoa, Italy. Pesto can be made in many different ways, from Mortar and Pestle or Food processor to my favorite way which is via Mezzaluna (mets - a - LOON - a).

Now I cannot lie about it, this method takes alot longer than the other two, but I think it creates a wider range of textural experience for the palate, as some ingredients get pulverized into almost liquid, with others being only slightly larger, still others being larger than that, and so on and so forth. Besides, while you are chopping the ingredients together, the aroma will send you to a Zen like state and help you work out some frustrations with your boss.
I have always made my pesto by handfuls of this and a little bit of that, but this time I measured and re-measured… converted and multiplied… added and calculated till I came up with my base recipe... so here goes.

3 oz by weight Basil Leaves ONLY (This is a little more than 2 cups depending on how hard you pack them down)
Small pinch of Kosher or Fleur de Sel (I prefer using Sicilian Sea Salt, when I have it)
4 large cloves of Garlic
1/4 cup Toasted Pine Nuts
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (you can use Grana Padano, but Parm is better)
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup Good Extra Virgin Olive oil maybe a little more (Just to cover, but this is for storage purposes, when you go to use it you will probably want to add more.)

Grab a chopping board that you do not mind having green stains on… Cause this will stain your board.
Begin by placing the garlic, pinch of salt and about 1/2 of the basil leaves in the center of the board.
Begin rocking the mezzaluna back and forth over the leaves until they are fairly roughly chopped.

Add another 1/4 of the basil, and chop… and chop, and chop and chop.
Then add 1/2 the pine nuts and chop and chop and chop… you will have to scrape the board every once in awhile to move everything back into a single pile.

Add in 1/2 the remaining basil leaves…. and… Yep you guessed it… Chop Chop Chop.
Add the remaining pine nuts… and….Everybody chop with me now...
Add the remaining basil and ……chop like its 1999 ... er, um. OK, bad pop culture reference. Sorry.
Finally add only 1/2 of the cheese, now even though you are rocking the blade back and forth through the mixture, you are not so much chopping anymore as causing the granular cheese to absorb the essential oils built up during the chopping, the texture of the pesto begins to change.

Once the first amount of cheese has been incorporated, add the remaining and continue rocking the blade through the mixture. It will begin to become a sort of loose paste and will begin to climb the blade.

Once it looks fairly well mixed in, begin packing the naked pesto together into a flattened circle or square, whichever you prefer.

Once you have the naked pesto packed together, move it to the smallest bowl you have that it will fit in, you don’t want a lot of wiggle room here. (Yes, I refer to the pesto as "naked", because it hasn’t been “dressed” with Olive Oil yet)
Dress the pesto paste, starting with 1/4 cup olive oil.

Press the paste down into the oil with a fork.
You want to flatten the pesto just to the point that the very top has a thin coating of Olive oil.

You can always add more oil later if you need to.
Cover pesto and refrigerate until ready to use.
When using, depending on the application, either thin out with more olive oil or 2 TB pasta water, before tossing with the pasta itself.

Pesto on Foodista

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