I thought I knew how to make pesto. It’s supposed to be simple and humble preparation, making it one of the more pleasurable dishes to both cook and eat. Using a food processor, I used to throw basil leaves, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and as Jamie Oliver would say, “whazz it”, all the while drizzling extra virgin olive oil. That’s what I thought was pesto. How romantic of me. And then I read about Ligurian pesto in Bon Appetit. It changed everything.
Liguria is on the Northwest coast of Italy, and is the birthplace of pesto. There, they serve it with everything – roasted fish, braised veal, semi soft cheeses, tripe sandwiches and Weetabix. What I had wrong in my pesto interpretation, according to Adam Rapoport, was partly technique, but mostly that I should be “opening a bottle of well chilled Italian white wine, no matter what time of day it is”.
If you love pesto, I can only encourage you to try it Ligurian style. I used to like pesto, but I now love Liguran pesto.
- Kosher salt
- 10 cups (loosely packed) fresh basil leaves (about 2 bunches)
- ½ cup finely grated Parmesan plus more
- 1 ½ Tbsp. pine nuts
- 1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
- ½ cup mild extra-virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
- 1 lb spaghetti
- Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Set a colander in a large bowl of ice water (this will make it easier to strain the basil later). Working in batches, blanch basil for 10 seconds. Using a large slotted spoon, transfer basil to colander in ice water; let cool completely. Set aside 1/2 cup blanching water. Reserve pot with blanching water.
- Drain basil by lifting colander from ice water. Using your hands, squeeze excess water from basil; transfer basil to paper towels. (You should have about 1/2 cup.)
- Place blanched basil, 1/2 cup Parmesan, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor. Pulse until well combined, adding blanching water by the tablespoonful to thin if needed, and stopping occasionally to scrape down sides. Process until a smooth, thick purée forms, about 1 minute.
- Transfer basil mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup oil. Season to taste with salt.
- Return water in pot to a boil; add more salt. Cook spaghetti, stirring occasionally, until al dente.
- Spoon 1/2 cup pesto and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid into a large bowl. Using tongs, transfer spaghetti to bowl and toss vigorously, drizzling with oil and adding more pesto and cheese as you continue to toss, until spaghetti is glossy and well coated with sauce. Season with salt. Divide among bowls; sprinkle with cheese.