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The basil of Liguria is intense in aroma. They produce small leaf basil that I haven’t seen anywhere else. The essential oils of basil are in the veins of the leaves. I was told that making pesto requires patients and love. The motion of the wooden pestle against the stone mortar brings out the oils. Add the leaves a little at a time, listen to the sound of the pestle as you move it against the mortor. The aroma is intoxciating. I love the way Italians talk about food, it is always so sensual.
I make Genovese pesto without cheese, pour it into ice cube trays and freeze it for soups or sauces. I store it in a glass jar, topped with olive oil and refrigerate it. Top it off with oil each time to assure it doesn’t oxidize. It is at my disposal whenever I want to add it to a dish such as chicken salad or drizzled over fish and always ready for pasta.
Often in Liguria the cheese is left out and used to flavor many other dishes. Soup, sauces, vegetables, topping for pizza, tossed with pasta, drizzled on fish, salads, a little pesto wakes up the flavors.
Mix the pesto with cheese such as Ricotta or Pecorino are also used. One of my favorites is a soft fresh chèvre with freshly ground pepper tossed with pasta. There are some lovely formaggi di capra made in the Alpe Liguri.
Trofiette Liguri is the traditional pasta with pesto and is served in every restaurant and household. Thank goodness you can buy trofiette packaged because hand making this pasta would truly be a labor of love.
Yield: 4 Servings
4 oz. fresh basil
4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons pinoli nuts (pine nuts)
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (light in flavor)
Salt to taste, (Don’t use large grain salt)
Wash the basil leaves in cold water and dry them on a towel. With a marble mortar and wooden pestle pound the garlic into a paste. The garlic should not overwhelm the basil. Add some salt and grind it into the garlic paste. Add the basil a little at a time and with a gentle swirling motion grinding it into the garlic. You get the best taste by gently grinding the leaves. At this point add the pine nuts, a handful at a time. When the nuts are soft and incorporated start adding the cheese. Begin to add the extra virgin olive oil. It is important the flavor of the oil is light so that it doesn’t overwhelm the flavor of the basil. The light olive oil of the Luguria blends perfectly with the basil mixture.
The preparation should be done at room temperature and as quickly as possible to avoid oxidation.
Trofiette Liguri is served everywhere and is a specialty of this region. Boil the water salting it sufficiently and drop in the trofiette. It will take longer then most pasta to cook, about 19 minutes. Toss it well with the pesto and serve the grated cheese either Parmesan or Pecorino on the side. Drizzle the same light extra virgin olive oil over the top.