I’ve been on somewhat of a pesto kick lately. What with my recipe for Stromboli and my Broad Bean Peasto, it’s definitely been appearing in my kitchen more since summer began. I even have a rocket pesto in the fridge right now, which I made earlier today for tonight’s dinner. That fresh herb flavour just seems to go with everything right about now, doesn’t it?
It’s not just pesto’s seasonal allure that I love, though; I have many fond memories of the Italian basil sauce. When we were kids, it was pretty much the only thing my sister and I liked on our pasta. (Aside from my dubious taste for spaghetti with ketchup and parmesan, that is.) My mum made her own and kept it in the freezer, so whenever my sister and I took a dislike to the “grownup” pasta sauce on offer, we’d just help ourselves to some pesto.
As an adult, I’ve loved discovering pesto’s versatility. I know some might turn their noses up at my inauthentic rocket version, but, I should admit, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I’ve made sage pesto, spinach pesto, parsley pesto, even coriander pesto. I don’t always stick to pine nuts, either; I’ve been known to use walnuts, almonds and hazelnuts, too. Depending of how much of a purist you are, you might not consider these sauces pestos at all- but I don’t mind. They’re all delicious, and I’ve always been somewhat of an anarchist, anyway (see ketchup and parmesan spaghetti, above).
Despite all this craziness, I still love me some authentic, basil-and-pine nut pesto, and last summer I had the chance to taste some in its natural habitat. In August, my boyfriend and I travelled to Cinque Terre, Italy for five days of sun, sand and great food. The Ligurian region around Genoa is the birthplace of pesto, and I made it my mission to sample a genuine version while I was there.
I got my chance about halfway through our trip. The Cinque Terre are five separate villages along the Ligurian coast of the Mediterranean. The entire area is a stunningly beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site , and scenic hiking trails connect each village. On a particularly hot day, Andrew and I were hiking from Manarola to Corniglia, the middle village. Corniglia is the only one of the Cinque Terre not on sea level, and so we were faced with the daunting task of hiking 100m up the mountain to find some lunch (in 34°C heat, no less).
In the end, though, it was worth it, because the restaurant we chose to eat at had Trenette al Pesto on the menu. A traditional Ligurian dish of trenette pasta, potatoes and green beans in pesto, it was just what I needed after a morning of hiking. Even as we were climbing back down the other side of the mountain, I already knew I’d be re-creating this at home.
This version is not quite authentic of course, because I haven’t used trenette. Linguine and fettucine are good substitutes, but as I didn’t have any of these on hand, I decided to walk on the wild side and use rigatoni. (I know- anarchy.) Also, I added some fresh peas that I had in the fridge, to a good result- their sweet taste really adds another dimension to the dish. The green vegetables, combined with the starch of the potatoes and pasta, really make this something special- fresh yet hearty. It’s also ridiculously simple to make, so there’s really no reason not to try it.
Note: I realize some of you might think, after going on and on about pesto, that I might actually offer a recipe for it below. Not so- this recipe simply calls for 1/4 cup of your favourite kind. My own pesto-making habits are so irregular that I rarely use the same measurements or proportions. Besides, doesn’t everyone have their own favourite pesto recipe already?
- Trenette al Pesto
- serves 2
- 200g trennete or other pasta
3 small new potatoes
1/4 cup fresh peas
50g fine green beans
1/4 cup Tbs. pesto
parmesan, to taste
- 1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil. Prep the potatoes by peeling and slicing them into a thickish juilienne. Halve the green beans both lengthwise and crosswise.
2. When the water boils, salt it generously and add the pasta, to cook according to package instructions. When there are approximately 8 minutes left, add the potatoes. At four minutes, add the peas and at two, the green beans. Drain gently and return everything to the pot.
3. Add the pesto and stir carefully (you don’t want to break up the potatoes too much) until everything has heated through. Serve hot, with extra parmesan.