As you can probably all gather by now, I derive great joy from cooking. Almost nothing gets in the way of my reveling in the preparation a good meal, whether it be an unusually small kitchen, a dinner for picky eaters (I like the challenge!) or limited ingredients. Note however that I used the word almost. This is because I find on a yearly basis that my desire to cook begins to wane with the arrival of summer, or rather, the unbearably hot weather in Rome.
My apartment has no air conditioning (most apartments here in Rome do not have it all, actually.) While at home in the summer I tend to spend most of my time parked in front of my trusty electric fan, which unfortunately is little comfort in the sometimes 90 plus degree heat. In these conditions, whipping up a cake does not seem quite so inviting; stirring risotto over a hot stove for a half an hour seems impossible; and roasting anything in the oven seems just plain unbearable. I always reach a point where I think that subsisting on gelato – preferably purchased and consumed in a gelateria with air conditioning – is the only way to survive the season.
This recipe for basil pesto, however, is one that seems to save me every summer. For those of you unfamiliar, pesto – from the Italian verb pestare, which means to crush – is an uncooked sauce made of basil, parmesan, olive oil, and pine nuts, from Genoa, in the Liguria region of Italy (you might have actually already read about pesto in Gloria’s on Le Cinque Terre. It perfectly showcases ever abundant summer basil, is extremely flavorful and quick to make, and best of all, requires just a whirl or two in the food processor – no heat needed! Pesto is traditionally served over pasta (just a few minutes of boil time to cook the pasta – avoid standing over the pasta pot as much as possible to stay cool!) It is good over cold pasta as well, and is delicious served with grilled chicken or fish, or spread on toasted bread as an appetizer. Despite its Italian origins, pesto also is synonymous with summer in Rhode Island for me – it is also my mom’s go to recipe in the hotter months, and she sometimes even uses it to make a pesto lasagna, one of her signature dishes (I hope to get the recipe for that to you as well!)
The traditional pesto recipe uses pine nuts, but since they can be a bit pricey, you could also substitute walnuts. Once you are comfortable with this traditional recipe, you could also mix and match the herb and nut combination; pistachio pesto (common in Sicily,) arugula pesto, and even sundried tomato pesto are great too. Enjoy!
Ingredients:1 garlic clove, peeled
2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup - 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Process the garlic, basil leaves, pine nuts, salt, and pepper in the food processor, pulsing until finely chopped. As the food processor is going, pour in the olive oil slowly. The pesto should be a thick but smooth; if it seems a bit too thick, you can add a little more oil to achieve the desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the 1/2 cup Parmesan. This makes enough pesto for about 1 pound of pasta, which is enough to serve 4-6 people.
*Note that you can keep pesto in the refrigerator for up to three days in the refrigerator, covered; drizzle a little bit of olive oil on top of the pesto to keep it from discoloring.