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
along the narrow winding way up to the remarkable
The first bite of this fresh pesto
from a shop window was a revelation in how pesto is meant to taste.
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.
The Italians grow amazing lemons along its mountainous coastline.
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
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
pasta. Ellie Krieger suggested it on potato salad, and I was thrilled to take
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
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,
Ellen has a bumper crop this year that I can harvest when I can’t get to
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
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted and cooled
- 1 clove garlic
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed
- ⅛ cup Parmigiano cheese, grated
- ⅛ cup Pecorini cheese, grated
- 1 T lemon juice
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ½ t salt (or to taste)
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- Add pine nuts and garlic to food processor and process until minced.
- 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.
- Fold into pasta gradually, tasting for light basil flavor.
- 1½ lbs. red potatoes, washed and cut into bite size pieces
- Portovenere-Style Pesto
- Boil potatoes in salted water for 20 minutes or until fork tender. Drain, rinse with cold water and allow to drip dry in colander.
- 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.