Tag Archives: pesto

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.

Almond & tomato pesto

16 Feb

Not all pesto is green, you know.

This Pesto Trapanese, from the town of Trapani in Sicily, is adapted from the recipe in Giorgio Locatelli’s “Made in Sicily.” I was tasked with doing the pasta course for a dinner a few evenings ago, and this wound up being a pretty big hit.

It doesn’t get much easier than this, either. All we’re talking about is almonds, fresh tomatoes, garlic and mint (yes, mint, not basil). The only thing that’s cooked is the pasta.

Lightly toast around 1/2 cup of almonds in a 350 degree F oven for several minutes, then chop.

Mix the chopped almonds with four garlic cloves and either pound together using a mortar and pestle or run through a food processor. I did a little of both here, and made sure not to make the mixture too fine. If you prefer things smoother, even completely smooth, that’s okay too; just run it through the food processor longer.

In a mixing bowl place the almond/garlic mix, 1/2 cup of finely chopped fresh mint (Locatelli’s recipe calls for three times that amount of mint), around 1 pound of skinned and diced fresh tomatoes, and a good hit of salt and freshly ground pepper.

Incorporate all the ingredients and then stir in around 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil. Be sure to use a good quality oil. Since the pesto isn’t cooked the flavor of the oil is important.

Mix the pesto with your pasta of choice (this is homemade fettuccine). And don’t discard all of your (well-salted) pasta water, because you may need to add some of it to the pasta if it’s a little too dry. After plating top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano and serve.

FOR MORE RECIPES: Click here for my Pasta Recipe Index; click here for the Vegetarian Recipe Index.

Leftovers: Tomato pesto sauce

27 Jul
I came across a quart of frozen tomato sauce in the freezer yesterday. (This shocks you, I know.) I had made the sauce (with sausage meat, said the masking tape label on its container) some time ago, and so it seemed a good idea to defrost the stuff and have at it.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Spaghetti and Red Sauce dinner. I ran into a bit of leftover pesto in the fridge and, well…
Next time I shall have to plan this meal in advance. 
I strongly urge you to do same.

Fennel frond pesto

20 Jul
I killed a whole mess of plants the other day.
On purpose.
No, I do not feel good about it.
“Crop thinning,” it’s called. Vegetable gardeners do it all the time, the good ones do anyway. They yank from the ground perfectly healthy seedlings so that other seedlings, a proper number for the space alloted, may prosper and grow.
I must not be a very good vegetable gardener. For rarely, if ever, do I summon the courage to launch such a killing spree.
I simply don’t have the heart.
And so, it is with trepidation (and an ample amount of shame) that I present to you this particular item: A very lovely pesto made with the fronds of scores of baby fennel seedlings that I ripped from their Mother Earth one dark day last week.
It was a simple matter of substituting the fennel fronds for the basil; that’s it. The recipe is the same pesto recipe that I have used for a couple decades now, courtesy of Marcella Hazan.
It was delicious, yes, tasting remarkably like a basil pesto, just a bit milder, softer even.
Sadly, I may find myself on another killing spree next year.
“Blender Pesto”
Adapted from Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cookbook”
2 cups fresh basil leaves (or, in this case, fennel fronds)
1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. pine nuts (I used walnuts this time)
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed and peeled
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 Tbsp. freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 Tbsp. butter, softened to room temperature
Put the basil (or fronds), olive oil, pine nuts (or walnuts), chopped garlic, and salt in the blender and mix at high speed.
When evenly blended pour into a bowl, and beat in the two grated cheeses by hand.
When the cheese has been evenly incorporated with the other ingredients, beat in the softened butter.
Before spooning the pesto over pasta, add a tablespoon or so of the hot pasta water.
When freezing pesto do so without adding the cheese and butter. Add the cheese and butter when it is thawed, just before serving.