Paolo’s perfect pesto

12 Jul

In the spring of 2016 my wife and I grabbed a couple of bar stools at a new restaurant here in Portland called Solo Italiano.

Our expectations were low. Very low. Mine especially.

The site, a cavernous onetime furniture store, had long been a place where restaurateurs’ dreams went to die. One by one these people opened their establishments, one by one they packed their belongings and moved on.

Not three bites into my meal I recall muttering these words aloud: “It’ll never last. Never.”

Only not for the reason you may be thinking.

The food at this new restaurant was simply too fine, too authentically Italian, to make it here in Maine. Its creator, a talented Ligurian named Paolo Laboa, just could not have known the heartache he was about to endure cooking things like Stoccafisso and Cima alla Genovese in a place where Pasta e Fagioli might seem exotic to the populace.

I went home that night ecstatic from the delicious meal that we had just enjoyed yet worried sick that the countdown to Solo Italiano’s demise had begun even before its first primi had been served.

Never have I been happier to be so dead wrong.

Not only is Paolo still cooking here in Portland, but Solo Italiano remains among the city’s best-regarded restaurants. Should you ever find yourself in the vicinity I highly recommend a visit. (Tell him the guy who brought him a mess of homemade mortadella sent you!)

I mention all this because recently I spent a couple of weeks in Liguria, in the north of Italy along the Mediterranean coastline. Pesto is more ubiquitous in Liguria than lobster is here in Maine, or barbecue is in Texas, which is to say that I sampled many different versions in dozens of restaurants on my journey. Some pestos were excellent, others extraordinary. But none were as fine as Paolo’s.

Not. One.

I made a batch of Paolo’s pesto soon after returning home from our trip and unpacking the Ligurian olive oils and Italian pine nuts from my baggage. Which got me thinking that you all might want to sample the pesto for yourselves. Paolo has been very generous to share his recipe through the years (here’s a video of him making his pesto on a local TV station in Maine a few years back). It’s a recipe that his mother taught him, handed down generations in his family. Back in 2008 it even won him the World Pesto Championship in Genoa (yes, there is such a thing).

You will not be disappointed.

Trust me on this.

Paolo Laboa’s Pesto Recipe

Use a blender only, NOT a food processor.

Makes 1 1/8 cups

6 cups loosely packed Genovese-style basil leaves

1/3 cup Italian pine nuts

1/3 of a small garlic clove (yes, I said ONLY a third)

1/2 cup fruity, mild extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Ligurian)

1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (24 months)

1/3 cup freshly grated Pecorino Sardo or aged Pecorino Toscano cheese

Place the blender jar in freezer to chill thoroughly.

Soak basil leaves in water for around 5 minutes.

Combine nuts and garlic in the chilled jar, then cover with oil. Puree until the mixture is creamy, then add salt. Note: Make sure to PULSE ONLY as constant running will generate heat which will affect flavor.

In 4 batches, lift basil leaves from water and add to blender. Note: Shake off excess water but not all of it, as water helps emulsify the pesto. Pulse until the mixture is smooth.

Add the 2 cheeses and pulse again until fully incorporated.

Transfer the pesto to a container. If you’re not using it immediately, cover with a thin film of oil and refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

4 Responses to “Paolo’s perfect pesto”

  1. Lee Atkinson July 13, 2022 at 1:14 pm #

    Thanks, great post !

    Lee

    >

  2. Joanne Gray July 14, 2022 at 2:58 pm #

    I’m so happy to get a new post from you—I thought you had disappeared! Please keep posting and thank you.

  3. M F July 16, 2022 at 6:26 am #

    Hi from Rockaway beach! Do you have a dirty water hotdog onion recipe? Thanks in advance

    • mistermeatball July 16, 2022 at 9:13 am #

      All I do is slowly saute the onions in olive oil til nice and soft, with a little hot pepper, then add a can of plain tomato sauce from supermarket and cook maybe ten minutes. Gulden’s on the dog and you’re all set.

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