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The Best Ever Pesto Recipe

Photo: BasilGardening.com

As summer wanes, I’ve been gifted with a bumper crop of basil, which is wonderful because I have the most awesome pesto recipe ever! With the weather here heating up beyond tolerable, school starting, and going back to work after a summer off, I’ve had little time or energy for much of anything, so it’s nice to be able to make something quick, without turning on the stove, with herbs fresh from the garden.

The traditional way to serve pesto in Italy’s Cinque Terre region, is with pasta cooked with potatoes and green beans. But if pasta isn’t your thing, or if you don’t want to turn the stove on AT ALL, pesto is fabulous on grilled chicken or fish and is perfect tossed with assorted grilled bell peppers or roasted potatoes. Freeze any leftovers in an ice-cube tray for winter or nights when you don’t have time to cook. 1-2 cubes per person is a good bet. Be sure and put the pesto cubes in a freeze zip bag — they’ll keep about 3 months. Buon appetito!

Trenette con Pesto alla Genovese (serves 6)

Ingredients

50 fresh medium basil leaves

2 garlic cloves

1 cup grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Parmesan-Pecorino Romano blend

2 Tbsp. pine toasted pine nuts

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

5 1/2/ tsp. sea salt

1/4 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1 Tbsp. creme fraiche (if creme fraiche is unavailable in your area, substitute soft cream cheese)

1/2 lb Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices

1/2 lb. green beans cut into 1 inch lengths (I use haricot verts, but regular green beans will do. If using regular, you may want to use only 1/4 lb)

1 lb dry trenette or linguini

Place basil in bowl of food processor and chop fine. Add the garlic and continue chopping. Add cheese and pine nuts and process until the nuts are chopped fine. Gradually add the olive oil while the motor is running. Add 1/2 tsp. salt and the pepper and pulse to combine. Add the creme fraiche and pulse to combine. Do not over process — this whole procedure should only take a few minutes. (If you are making ahead, pour the pesto into a bowl, cover with a thin layer of olive oil to preserve color, and refrigerate until ready to use. The pesto should be used within one day of preparing or frozen.)

Bring 5 qts. water to a boil and add remaining salt. Add the potatoes and return to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. About 2-3 minutes before the end of the pasta cooking time, add the beans to the pasta and potatoes.

While pasta cooks, heat the pesto in a large saute pan with 1-2 Tbsp. of the cooking water from the pasta. Do not boil. Transfer pasta, potatoes, and beans to colander to drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Add pasta to the pan with the pesto and toss to coat evenly. Add reserved water as needed.

* This recipe is adapted from the Il Fornaio Pasta Book — a highly recommended cookbook with traditional regional Italian dishes. The dish will use all of the pesto, so if you’ve got enough basil, double the recipe and freeze the rest.

Bella Vacanza

My good friend, Todd Hansen, has graciously agreed to allow me to post his reflections and pictures from his recent trip to Italy! When I’m unable to get much beyond the confines of home, sharing armchair travel with friends is a breath of fresh air that satisfies the wanderlust — at least temporarily.  I hope you enjoy! And thanks again, Todd, for sharing your beautiful experience with others.

I have to tell you about a beautiful vacation to Italy that my girlfriend and I took this summer! It was way better than we anticipated and involved planes, trains, automobiles, and many boats.

We had a beautiful room on the island across from Venice (Giudecca) for 2 nights. Of course, this is where the boats come in: boat from airport to hotel, frequent shuttles to Venice, and a very nice gondola ride.

The view from the hotel at Giudecca. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

We both love the classic Italian preparation of Seabass (traditional Branzino) the whole fish, de-boned and looking at you, with lemon and herbs. So I ordered it 3 times on the trip! Each time was different, one being so lightly breaded, you could call it “dusted”. Each preparation was a savoury delight.

Then, a high speed train out of Venice to Rome was a great idea. There, we picked up a rental Fiat for our drive to Sorrento, 3 hours South. It was a wonderful drive that took us right around the base of Mt. Vesuvius. My driving skills were tested coming into the sloping cliffs of Sorrento on a busy weekend. I didn’t hit one scooter!

The Sorrento Coast. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

I was treated to a perfect birthday dinner in Sorrento overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea. The next day we jumped on a large ferry to Capri for a daylong excursion of even narrower roads (with a great taxi driver), molta bella views of the Tyrrhenian, and a dip into the ancient waters.

Back at the Sorrento hotel lounge for a drink, we found ourselves devouring a complimentary plate of olives (one of many bar snacks). Seems they had a perfect blend of fennel seeds, peppers, and olive oil, one we would never be able to re-create on our own. And it gets better! The 30 year veteran bartender, Gemmaro, served me the best cocktail I’ve had in recent years: an Alexander — my first experience of the drink & also my girlfriend’s last name.

On our way out of Sorrento, we thought we would swing over to Positano for lunch. This is the famous Amalfi Coast where the homes and buildings are built on sloping, rocky hills right down to the water. It is a must see. And I recommend doing so from a nice little restaurant overlooking the coast with a plate of Pasta Carbonara in front of you — Scusi, more pepper please!

The Amalfi Coast. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

Next stop: Pompeii. Not an easy park to find, but once we did our luck improved greatly. After walking around a bit, we asked a worker for advice and he proceeded to give us a quick guided tour of the highlights that we would never have found on our own. We saw a beautiful fresco, an ancient grape crusher, and to my amazement – actual human remains from that fateful day in 79 AD.

Once we got back to Rome we were quite exhausted from the long, hot drive. But our hotel was another pleasant surprise, with a wonderful balcony for 2. So we relaxed with some local olives and wine. Now we had to try to give Rome it’s due respect in one day! We set out for the Colosseum early the next day and again we stumbled upon a group tour that worked out for the best. The 2 guides were very informative about the Colosseum and nearby ruins.

The Roman Colosseum. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

Even though it was a national holiday, we thought we should go to The Vatican to push our good luck. Now, I’ve seen a lot of big Italian churches from my previous trip to Italy, but St. Peter’s Basilica is by far the biggest — OMG! Luckily, Lorna begged a scarf for her shoulders so that we could witness the magnificence of the Pope’s home turf.

After such a grand display, I needed a drink. So we hoofed it over to Trevi Fountain for a sip of water supplied by an ancient Roman Aqueduct (working almost continuously since 19 BC!) and some Italian Pinot Grigio. It was amazing to me how there are remnants of Roman Aqueduct all around the city. These are very old structures, proudly secure amongst buildings of steel and glass, quick moving autos, and time itself.

Todd and Lorna at Trevi Fountain, Rome. Photo courtesy of Todd Hansen.

So you can see we did a lot in a short amount of time thanks to my girlfriend’s expert planning. We both agreed on the highlight of the trip: the food. It was all so flavourful and fresh, inventive and classic, and yet you knew you were eating healthier than home.

Want to sample Todd’s authentic Alexander cocktail? Here’s the quintessential Italian how-to.

This post is dedicated to my friend, Ruth Nina Walsh, who has a great love of travel and art and who has always wished to visit Italia. Buon Viaggio!