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Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Italian Genius

The smell of a handful of fresh basil brings joy to my heart. Even the two or three small sprigs I buy in the dead of winter…you know the ones…they come in those horrible little plastic containers. I chop them into a chiffonade and scatter them on a pizza or that old standby, vodka pasta… and presto! The entire dish comes alive. Behold the Power of Basil!

So, when summer comes, and I spy those gigantic bunches of basil at my local farmer’s market, it’s like something lets loose. As with tomatoes, I wait all year to indulge my more gluttonous tendencies with basil. No parsimonious sprinkles here and there. When there’s an abundance of basil, it means it’s time for pesto.

Because I can’t help myself, I turned to my cookbook shelves and, using two hands, hoisted The Silver Spoon, aka the Italian version of Joy of Cooking, from the shelf. It weighs a ton and if I were to cook from it every day it would take a decade to make it through all the recipes. (we’re talking some 1,200 + pages.) Yet, I’m extremely fond of this book. It is lovable in its odd translations and puzzling quantities (maybe the metric conversions?). And, it begins with the preface, in giant bold letters: EATING IS A SERIOUS MATTER. I think I will make this my personal motto.

In the Primi Piatti (First Course) section was a recipe for Linguine with Genoese Pesto, alongside a stunningly gorgeous photo of a verdant green tangle of pasta with string beans and small chunks of potato. There were some yellow string beans and funky Italian green beans (flatter and wider than a regular string bean) in the fridge from the CSA box, so I figured, I’m in!

The genius of the recipe is this: you throw the beans, the pasta and the potatoes, which you’ve cut into the right-sized pieces all into boiling water, and when the pasta is done, so is everything else. Sort of a one-pot meal. Toss it all with the pesto you’ve whipped up in the food processor and you’ve got a replica of that gorgeous photo. If there is such a thing as summer comfort food…this is it. sigh… I’m known to fall hard for any recipe that is this easy.

Just for kicks, thought it might be nice to gild the lily and toss a few sauteed shrimp on top.

I used the entire batch on one pound of pasta, but if you choose to exercise restraint, the pesto will keep in the fridge in a small jar, with a thin layer of olive oil poured on top.
I have heard of people putting pesto into ice cube trays for freezing, and then having a ready supply throughout the winter. Whatever…that’s just never going to happen here…not with a pesto glutton around.

Linguine Al Pesto Genoese
Adapted from The Silver Spoon

Serves 4

1 lb. linguine
2 yellow boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into two-inch chunks
2-3 big handfuls of yellow or green string beans, trimmed

For the pesto:
2 cloves of garlic
2 cups of fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons pine nuts or walnuts
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ cup freshly grated romano cheese
Approx. 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and add the pasta, beans and potatoes. Cook for approx 10 minutes, but start checking the pasta around 9 minutes, if you're using linguine.

While the pasta cooks, get out the food processor, and In the work bowl process basil, garlic and pine nuts until well-chopped. Add cheese and pulse 3-4 times. Then, with motor running, add the olive oil through the feed tube in a thin stream. Watch as the pesto starts to form, you may need to stop the machine and scrape the sides down and check the consistency. If you like it thicker, don’t use all the oil…thinner, use more.

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