Nothing says summer like bright green pesto with a salty hint of parmigiano-reggiano, the buttery texture of pine nuts, grassy extra virgin olive oil and a bite of fresh garlic. Over the years, I’ve spent a few summers in Aulla, a town in Northern Tuscany, where the sea meets the mountains.
It was in a tiny kitchen in this town where I learned from Carmela, my partner’s mama, how to cook for a crowd even when the only sharp knife to be had was a butter knife. I learned how to roast meat, clean fresh anchovies (it takes some guts–no joke,) cook pasta like a good Italian, the secret to a good tomato sauce, how to drink wine while cooking (that was easy) and to follow instructions in Italian. The kitchen in Aulla, is always filled with people, pots bubbling, a few bottles of wine floating around and a welcome breeze that riffles in through the open balcony.Many afternoons are spent at the beach, but before we head out a big lunch is always in order. Typically, the night before involves a large table crowded with hungry mouths, copious amounts of wine, great conversation with family and friends and a huge stack of dishes to scrub clean, so a quick and easy lunch the next day is a welcome reprieve.
We’ll head over to the local market and pick up a large tub of house-made pesto and a big heap of freshly rolled gnocchi. At home, we grab a big pot, fill it with water to boil, add a palmful of sea salt, drop in the gnocchi and as soon as the plump pasta bobs to the surface, we strain the gnocchi, add it to a big serving bowl and mix in the pesto, that’s it! Ah yes, a grating of fresh parmigiano-reggianno and some peperoncino is good too.
I’ve learned how to make my own pesto, which is helpful when the basil in our garden is growing faster than I can pick it! The secret to a good pesto is to grind the ingredients by hand with a mortar and pestle. All the Italian nonnas will tell you that there was no such thing as a food processor or blender when they made pesto. Grinding the ingredients is also the best way to achieve the perfect texture –– you don’t want an emulsion here, a grainy texture where you can taste each of the ingredients is best. I’ve done it both ways, grinding by hand and cheating with a food processor, you pick what works for you.Pesto
Makes about 1 jam jar or enough to serve with pasta for 4-6
1 big bunch of basil
1 palmful toasted pine nuts
1 handful of freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
1 garlic clove
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, to taste
Either chop, or cheat by blending or food processing all of the ingredients until well combined. If you do blend or use your food processor remember, you don’t want an emulsion, so don’t blend it to death! A few pulses to chop and combine the ingredients will suffice.
If you choose to grind the ingredients with a mortar and pestle begin by mashing the garlic with a pinch of salt, add the pine nuts and mash until blended. Add the basil and don’t pound, but break up the leaves by swiping the pestle around the mortar in a circular motion. Next, add the parmigiano-reggiano and mix, then finally, add the olive oil to combine everything together.
*I use my pesto the same day that I make it, however, if you want to store it, I suggest keeping it in a glass canning jar. Before you put the lid on, top it off with a bit of olive oil to help preserve the green color. This should keep 3-4 days.
As for the gnocchi, you can make your own or do like me and buy it at your local Italian market. I’ve made homemade gnocchi thanks to the teachings of Carmela, and it’s worth every bite, but for simplicity’s sake, I use a package of made in Italy gnocchi from my favorite Italian grocer Lady York Foods 2939 Dufferin St, North York, ON M6B 3S7, Canada. This family owned, European-style market has been around since 1959 and they have an incredible selection of Italian products including hard-to-find items like: Baccala, cotechino, olive oils, pastas, Italian tomatoes, bufala mozzarella and even soap.Gnocchi
1 pound (500 grams) of your favorite packaged gnocchi
Preparation: Grab a big pot, fill it with water to boil, add a palmful of sea salt, drop in the gnocchi and as soon as the plump dumplings bob to the surface, strain and add the gnocchi to a big serving bowl. Mix in the pesto and that’s it! Ah yes, a grating of fresh parmigiano-reggianno and some peperoncino is good too.