Three Secrets to Recreating Pesto alla Portovenere

Portovenere from the Cinque Terre ferry © The Gracious Posse

I returned from our Italian family adventure motivated to get cooking in the kitchen. Once we were wheels down in RVA I knew that my first culinary venture would be pesto pasta. Inspired by one of our favorite treats from Portovenere just south of the Cinque Terre, I couldn’t wait to try to recreate the light coating covering the trenette pasta that we picked up

Portovenere street © The Gracious Posse

along the narrow winding way up to the remarkable

Church of San Pietro © The Gracious PosseChurch of San Pietro.

The first bite of this fresh pesto

pesto shop in Portovenere © The Gracious Posse

from a shop window was a revelation in how pesto is meant to taste.

Portoverere pesto on pasta © The Gracious Posse

The lightness made me think that the Italians add more olive oil than Americans do to the standard list of pesto ingredients: basil, pine nuts, parmesan cheese and garlic. My own first attempt with a lot of good olive oil just wasn’t right, so I started a more deliberate hunt for the secret. In the process, I stumbled on Ellie Krieger’s pesto recipe and consulted Rick Steves’ Italy, as well. With their guidance, I have discovered three secrets for making pesto that tastes almost as unforgettable as our Portovenere al fresco delight.

1. Lemons

The Italians grow amazing lemons along its mountainous coastline.

Cinque Terre lemons © The Gracious Posse

Big in the north, Italian lemons become mammoth as you move further south to Positano. Not just good for Italy’s ubiquitous limoncello, fresh lemon juice helps preserve

making pesto © The Gracious Posse

the spring green color of the pesto while lending a bit of fresh citrus to it.

2. Pecorino Cheese

Rick Steves revealed that the flavor of the Cinque Terre pesto is enhanced with an equal combination of parmigiano and pecorino cheeses. The sheep’s milk in the pecorino gives the pesto some tang, too, without overpowering the other ingredients. I now shred equal amounts of each with a Microplane Classic Zester/Grater.

3. Light Hand

In the past, I’ve just doused my pasta with all the pesto that I made in a batch. When my son complained that one of my concoctions tasted too basil-ey, I realized my error. Everything in moderation ~ especially to recreate the lightly coated pasta that we so enjoyed. You need to taste as you gradually fold your pesto into the pasta to get it just right.

With these 3 secrets now figured out, I’ve been whipping up pesto for more than just

trofie pasta alla Pontevenere pesto © The Gracious Posse

pasta. Ellie Krieger suggested it on potato salad, and I was thrilled to take

pesto potato salad © The Gracious Posse

this offering (recipe below) to Ellen’s Potluck. Then as I was contemplating dinner the other night, I thought of our family favorite, Chicken Tortellini Salad. Instead of the normal balsamic vinaigrette, I added

pesto on Chicken Tortellini Salad © The Gracious Posse

my Portovenere-Style Pesto while taking out the shredded basil that I normally include.

Now that I’ve got this recipe down, it takes me no time to whip up a batch. The hardest part is finding 3 loosely packed cups of basil. Fortunately,

bumper crop of basil © The Gracious Posse

Ellen has a bumper crop this year that I can harvest when I can’t get to

farmer’s market basil © The Gracious Posse

the farmer’s market.

Summer is the perfect time for making pesto. I may turn a little green, but Portovenere-Style Pesto will be making regular appearances at chez Fauls until the temperatures drop in the fall. Have you got any suggestions for what else will work great with this pesto?


July 21, 2014

Portovenere-Style Pesto
Write a review
  1. 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
  2. 1 clove garlic
  3. 3 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
  4. ⅛ cup Parmigiano cheese, grated
  5. ⅛ cup Pecorini cheese, grated
  6. 1 T lemon juice
  7. ¼ cup olive oil
  8. ½ t salt (or to taste)
  9. freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Add pine nuts and garlic to food processor and process until minced.
  2. Add the basil, cheeses and lemon juice and process until fully combined, stopping to scrape sides with spatula as needed. While processor is on, gradually pour the oil through the chute. Continue processing until well blended, while adding salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Fold into pasta gradually, tasting for light basil flavor.
The Gracious Posse
Pesto Potato Salad
Serves 8
Write a review
  1. 1½ lbs. red potatoes, washed and cut into bite size pieces
  2. Portovenere-Style Pesto
  1. Boil potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes or until fork tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and allow to drip dry in colander.
  2. Gently transfer potatoes to a large bowl and fold in ⅓ cup pesto until potatoes are well-coated. Taste and add up to ¼ more depending on how strongly flavored you want your potatoes.
The Gracious Posse

For Practically Stress-free Summer Entertaining Make It a Potluck

Summertime and the living is easy.

It’s too hot and erratic to plan fancy get-togethers. Who wants to get fancy anyway? Recently Ellen showed us how to host a gracious and easy summertime get-together complete with spouses.

summer potluck © The Gracious Posse

Choose a Weekday

First, she started by choosing a Thursday night. That night worked particularly well because her cleaning crew comes on Thursdays. Also, in these parts, summer weekends beckon people to the river, beach, mountains or children’s travel tournaments. Though my husband commented that it was a school night, he was glad to join the fun and, as always, was one of the last to leave.

Simply Email

Spur of the moment entertaining appeals to me because there is no time for over-the-top expectations. Ellen sent out a simple email to those she thought would be in town.

Hi all,

Please join Duncan and me for a potluck supper this Thursday night at 6:30. Once I know who’s coming, I’ll send out a sign-up so we don’t duplicate. We’ll provide BBQ and drinks.


Make It Potluck

mozzarella and strawberry appetizer at summer potluck © The Gracious Posse

The casual hostess need not feel obligated to provide every item at a dinner. In fact your posse wants to help if they can (that’s why they are your posse). Besides, how many of them have a “Gotta Try” file or Pinterest board filled with recipes that need guinea pigs? Potluck nights provide a great excuse to try one out like rBr did with this

Smoky Three-Bean Bake at summer potluck © The Gracious PosseSmoky Three-Bean Bake.

jCb was delighted to get creative with local produce in this

tomato salad at summer potluck © The Gracious PosseTomato Salad (recipe below).

Perfect Potluck makes creating a well-rounded menu easy. As hostess, Ellen provided the main course bbq from local favorite Buzz & Ned’s. She and LBD also provided the beverages. Ellen then fashioned the potluck sign-up to complement the bbq and provide sufficient provisions for the guests.

perfect potluck sign-up © The Gracious Posse

Minimal Decorations

potluck hydrangeas on the table © The Gracious Posse

Only a few summer flowers are necessary to complement your buffet table. Fortunately they are abundant and cheap, especially if they are growing in your own garden. Ellen cut hydrangeas for Ball jars and a few gardenias that had re-bloomed just in time for the evening.

Buffet with Paper Plates

potluck table © The Gracious Posse

Like I said, this potluck was not intended to be fancy. A simple buffet set-up with paper plates and bandanas for napkins added to the relaxed atmosphere and made clean-up a breeze. It’s always easier to get your spouse to pitch in when there is minimal fuss and stress, making it more likely you’ll do it again!

Just Do It

dNz's coconut cream pie © The Gracious PossedNz’s Toasted Coconut Pie

Too often I hesitate to entertain because I get overwhelmed by everything that I think needs to be done and offered to our guests. There’s a time and a place for that type of entertaining, but it’s not always necessary especially on a Thursday night in the summer. Ellen’s potluck evening proves that your posse will be thrilled to pitch in and make it a special night out for everyone, and I vow to do this myself this summer.

salutationa&eJuly 18, 2014

p.s. from Ellen ~ This potluck evening was not intended to be covered by The Gracious Posse, but it turned out to be blog-worthy because of its simplicity. Go ahead, potluck it!

Julie’s Tomato Salad
Write a review
  1. 6-8 tomatoes of different varieties - heirloom, Hanover etc - cut into bite sized pieces
  2. 1 large English cucumber - slices cut into quarters
  3. vidalia or sweet onion cut into half rings
  4. crumbled feta
  5. jar of kalamata olives, drained
  1. Balsamic vinegar
  2. good extra virgin olive oil
  3. Thyme or other herb
  4. Salt & pepper to taste
  1. Eyeball the proportion of salad ingredients based on number of people serving.
  2. Drizzle vinegar and oil over combined salad ingredients. Sprinkle herb and salt & pepper to taste. Blend well and allow to marinate for a few hours before serving.
The Gracious Posse

Ready to Go Biking? Here’s the Gear You’ll Need

Recently I described the joy of my maiden biking trek with the Biking Belles in Biking the Capital Trail. The last bike I purchased was 25 years ago with LDB

25-year-old Schwinn mountain bikes © The Gracious Posse

to celebrate our first anniversary. Back then non-competitive biking merely required a bike and a helmet. Since those halcyon days, bicycle manufacturers have created oodles of companion equipment to meet our every need, plus created a whole bunch of wants for our pocketbooks to consider. Let’s look at the needs and a few desirable wants for those of you new to, or getting reacquainted with, recreational biking.

The Bike

For recreational trail and road biking, a new type of bike has emerged called a hybrid. It combines the comfort of a mountain bike

mountain bike at Carytown Bikes © The Gracious Posse

with the aerodynamics of a racing bike

racing bike at Carytown Bikes © The Gracious PosseCannondale racer weighs less than 15 pounds

to give the rider the best of both worlds.

tSt's hybrid bike © The Gracious PossetSt’s TREK hybrid bike

The Helmet

Always wear a helmet, and be sure it fits snugly on your head. Some helmets come with visors to shield the sun.

Helmets at Carytown Bikes © The Gracious Posse

For best results, go to a local bike shop and get a proper fitting helmet.

Bike Carrier

If you need to transport your bike to and from your ride, you’ll need a bike carrier, or get a bike with removable tires to load into the back of an ample-sized car or truck. If your bike carrier 

loaded bike rack © The Gracious Posse

will be carrying women’s bikes, you will need a cross-bar adaptor (seen in red above) to keep the bike level. Men’s bikes don’t need this because the cross bar is horizontal.

Yakima Bike Leveler © The Gracious Posse

Other Must-Haves

Tire Pump © The Gracious Posse tire pump

Water Bottle Cage © The Gracious Possewater bottle and bottle cage

The Bells and Whistles Baskets

Time to get stylish with accessories. These are hard to resist.

Nantucket Bike Basket © The Gracious PosseNantucket Bike Basket

tSt received this adorable Nantucket Bike Basket from her family for Mother’s Day. You’ll want a basket to carry your necessities

  • cell phone and/or camera in a protective bag
  • sunscreen
  • driver’s license or ID
  • a bit of cash for emergencies
  • water bottle if you don’t have a bottle cage on your bike
  • snack
  • first aid supplies
  • trail map

bJm’s bike basket (on right) is sturdier, so if you worry about ruining a charming basket like tSt’s, maybe this is the basket for you.

two types of bike baskets © The Gracious Posse


Bike shorts with padded seats are very desirable. Widely available, these shorts keep one’s tush comfortable on a long ride. Comfort over style in this case.

Bike Shorts © The Gracious Posse

Gloves with cushioning add comfort, too.

Biking Gloves © The Gracious Posse

 Other Gear 

Zippered Bag © The Gracious Possesmall zippered bag mounts underneath the seat

rearview mirror © The Gracious Posserear-view mirror

Odometer/speedometer © The Gracious PosseOdometer/speedometer (also called a cyclocomputer)

Schwin Bicycle Bell via Amazon Schwinn Classic Bicycle Bell  

bike lock © The Gracious Possebike lock 

The most interesting accessory I discovered while chatting with the friendly folks at Carytown Bikes, one I know the tech-savvy among us will want, is a USB charger that recharges itself from the wheel’s motion.

USB charger © The Gracious Posse

This nifty device comes in handy when you’re on a long ride and need to recharge your phone, iPod, camera or bike light.

With cycling, one can spend a little or a lot. Each one of the aforementioned items has a universe of choices and selection criteria. It’s not as simple as when we hopped on one of these  

Banana seat bike

for a spin around the neighborhood. Are you ready to jump on the biking bandwagon sweeping RVA?

salutatione&a July 14, 2014