Thursday, 10 March 2011

GOURMET WORDS FROM THE ITALIAN RIVIERA: PESTO - BASIL PESTO


"Savore d'aglio", "garlic flavour, or the greatest symbol of Ligurian cuisine. Born around 1830 (when it was prepared with Gouda cheese), it clearly echoes "moretum", an ancient Roman sauce. Healthy, scenting and versatile, it boasts a perfect balance of ingredients that represent the glory of local rurality (basil, oil, garlic…), and a flying visit to nearby Emilia and Sardinia as regards cheese (24-month Parmigiano and Pecorino). Originally, it was served as a condiment for bollito. The Riviera di Ponente goes for a slightly punget pesto, whereas the Riviera di Levante opts for creamier versions (often inclusive of prescinseua). "Pesto corto" features a tomato brunoise and less garlic. In 2004 "Crespi & Figli" from Ceriana (IM), established in 1925, was the first Italian business to achieve the UNI 10939 certification for the traceability of the whole system. The best matches for pesto are lasagne (dialect mandilli, i.e. handkerchiefs), trenette, trofie (pasta twists probably invented inn the Golfo Paradiso) and gnocchi. A pine nuts-free version usually features as the final touch of minestrone alla genovese (see above). The 7 elements of this artful recipe are pound with a hard wood pestle into a marble mortar (Carrara and the Apuan Alps are a short distance away). Pesto purists would shriek at the mere thought of a blender, which could "burn" the precious olfactory qualities of the basil, so remember to keep the blades' speed very low. Fred Plotkin precise remark "Ligurians have basil instinct" successfully describes the locals' knack for the precious herb, grown at its best (small, round leaves) in the hills of Prà (outskirts of Genoa), an area blessed by a unique sun - sea breeze combination. Vessalico, a tiny village of the Valle Arroscia between the provinces of Imperia and Savona, provides the garlic (a Slow Food presidium). Storing pesto is a matter of airtight jars, clean and dry, and thin olive oil layers to protect the sauce from oxidation.


Recipe (4 people)
4 bunches of Genova-Prà basil, 2 tablespoons pine nuts (ask for Pisa pinoli), 50 gr grated Parmigiano, 30 gr grated Pecorino Sardo, 2 cloves Vessalico garlic, 4 tablespoons Ligurian extravirgin oil, 1 pinch coarse salt.

Put the basil leaves (washed and dry), the pine nuts, the garlic (remove the green heart) and the salt into the mortar. Pound the ingredients and gradually add the two cheeses. Slowly blend the mix with the olive oil. Regional gourmets add a spoonful of the boiling water to the pesto before dressing the pasta. Please note that the mortar should be washed with water and vinegar.



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