#9 GENOA, BASIL & PESTO

#9 GENOA, BASIL & PESTO

[We have a wander around Italy on the hunt for the most typical dishes of our heritage. Which you can also replicate at home, if you fancy. That’s right, because we’re also going to give you the recipe!]

Genoa is a city of contrasts, as is often the case with cities by the sea: I’m thinking of Palermo, Naples, Bari... 

On the one hand, it boasts wide streets and elegant architecture and infrastructure, such as the 17th-century Via Balbi, with residences that once belonged to the aristocracy or dynasties of merchants and shipowners. On the other hand, you only have to turn a corner to find yourself in narrow, dark alleyways, which are just as authentic and full of life. This is the case with Via Prè, today a cultural melting pot, with shops of all kinds and origins - Ligurian, Arab, Chinese, South American, and so on. 

We already visited Genoa 2 years ago: we talked about the carruggi (the tangle of alleyways so narrow you can hold out your hands and touch both facing facades), as well as the infamous pesto. But how many of us, besides eating it, have tried our hand at making it?!

Yes, the temptation to buy ready-made pesto is strong: long-life jars that save us when we have to prepare a meal on the fly - for us Italians, there is no better solution than a nice plate of pasta!

But the taste of homemade pesto can absolutely take your dish to a whole other world, so it is well worth trying at least once in a lifetime. Ready?

PESTO BY HAND, OR USING A BLENDER

[preparation time: 15 minutes]

Ingredients [serves 4]

  • 80 g of basil leaves
  • 30 g pine nuts (alternatively, almonds or cashews, unsalted of course, are also fine)
  • 100 g grated cheese (preferably Parmesan)
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves
  • 7 tablespoon of our extra virgin olive oil 
  • Salt
  • Potatoes and green beans, if you want to try my favourite pesto dish: for quantity and method, head to the bottom of the recipe 

Method

Right from the off we are faced with a dilemma: should we use a mortar and pestle or a blender? Of course, purists would say the former, but we know that the blender is more in line with the times and ways of modern life.

Here’s a little tip: to make sure your pesto stays bright green, refrigerate both the blades and the container in which you will be blending the ingredients beforehand: the cold will slow down the oxidation process of the basil.

Onwards! Next you’ll want to wash the basil leaves and leave them to soak for about ten minutes, then dry them with a cloth.

Now we are ready to blend: first, combine the pine nuts and garlic; then add half of the basil leaves, and blend just a little - the blades tend to oxidise the basil, so just give a few taps, blending in small bursts; add the remaining leaves, still blending a little at a time.

The time has come to pour in the grated cheese and half the oil and blend (always briefly, always in bursts). Last step: add the remaining oil and give it a final, very quick whizz.

The pesto should be thick - the addition of the pasta water will make it slightly thinner, making it just the right consistency to pair perfectly with your favourite pasta: I recommend Linguine or Spaghetti.

The most delicious pesto dish for me? Simply wash and chop 120 g of potatoes and 100 g of green beans (trimmed and left whole), cook them in boiling, salted water and, after 5 minutes, pour in the pasta - it will cook together with the vegetables.

At the end of the time marked on the pasta packet, drain everything and dress with your pesto (which you should have first thinned slightly with the cooking water).

And voila! Creamy and fragrant, your Linguine al pesto is served, as if you were in Liguria.

Buon appetito! 💗