Monday, 11 August 2008
Teach Yourself Latin
We love a bit of pesto in our house. That glistening green sauce of basil plopped and stirred into pasta. It's the taste of summer. I hate, hate, hate the jar stuff though, it tastes, and looks, as if you've scraped the mould off a cellar wall and added cheese. No, it has to be fresh and the freshest comes from making your own. It is eminently easy to buy decent fresh pesto in most supermarkets these days for not very much at all, but I like to make my own at least once every summer, it makes me feel like I belong in a Dolce and Gabbana advertisement.
So, every summer I attempt to grow enough basil specially to make it. Last year, because the weather was appalling my crop failed. This year because the weather is appalling still, I've grown it on the bathroom windowsill in an old apple crate. Bringing the crate into the house resulted in me getting a scar on my nose, so I was horrified to find when I got back from a trip to visit my mother-in-law that my plants were covered in whitefly. I'd foolishly left the window open a smidge to keep the air fresh. So the last few weeks have had me frantically spraying with a mild solution of fairy liquid in the hope of saving my dream, to little effect. Having failed to get rid of the blasted sticky mites I decided that today I would have to crop a little early and make the sauce before my efforts were reduced to limp nothings.
What a ghastly job it proved to be. Fishing for enough firm shiny leaves amongst the goo to get a decent amount. But I managed it thank goodness. A scarred nose and no pesto for the second year running would have sent me over the edge.
I use the recipe from Anna Del Conte's book The Gastronomy of Italy, but because I can't easily get peccorino cheese I use all parmesan. It's not quite as good, and certainly not as authentic but it's still better than supermarket sauce. I also toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan rather than on a tray in the oven. This because using the oven, in these days of energy efficiency, seems ridiculously extravagant. The result is the same, you just have to be a bit more careful not to burn them. Also, I make it in a food processor but if you feel that using machines is an inauthentic step too far you can bash it all to a paste in a mortar with a pestle. And there is something to be said for doing it that way. You probably use up more calories making the sauce than you get from eating it, for one.
If you have any basil and would like to make pesto easily and deliciously, here is my augmented recipe:
20g of pine nuts
50g of fresh basil leaves, the bigger and glossier the better
1 clove of garlic, peeled
a pinch of sea salt
6 tablesoons freshly grated parmesan cheese (or 4 + 2 of grated pecorino if you don't live in a food desert like me)
120ml mild extra virgin olive oil.
For the full on Italian dream experience ensure you are barefoot and wearing a tight fitting, floral tea dress, and flicky eye-liner. Toast the pine nuts in a dry frying pan over a medium heat until they are speckled with brown. It will only take a few minutes, so don't be tempted to abandon them. Put the basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt in a food processor or blender and whiz to a paste. Once you have your paste, transfer it to your most Italian looking bowl, add the grated cheese stirring it all together, then add the oil in a trickle as you beat it with a wooden spoon. To eat it just add a tablespoon or so to a bowl of hot pasta or gnocchi. This should easily serve four. I rather like it spread thickly on toasted sourdough bread and topped with tomatoes too, so as usual I made double the quantity.