Basil is another item I associate with summer. In fact, my dad would plant basil in between the tomatoes in his garden. It really thrived in the humid New Jersey climate, and we had an abundance when the days got hot and lazy. Consequently, spaghetti with pesto was a frequent summer supper, often eaten in the backyard, al fresco. Pesto is said to have originated in Genova (which also claims to be the birthplace of focaccia). Perhaps the Piedmont climate is similar to that of mid New Jersey.
Pesto is not really an oil-based sauce, though you might think so because that’s they way you typically find it in the supermarkets. In fact, it relies more on butter (but perhaps an oil-based version is easier to mass-produce?). As with most things, there’s really no comparing the homemade version and the store-bought stuff. In its purest form, it simply consists of garlic, basil, pine nuts, cheese, and butter. From there, feel free to improvise! I usually include a bit of walnuts with the pine nuts, and if I have some spinach, I’ll add that in to deepen the color. As for the proportions, you can use more or less of each ingredient to suit your taste.
What you need
Garlic, 1 clove
Pine nuts (pignoli), about a ½ cup
Walnuts, ¼ cup (optional)
Basil, one big bunch
Grated cheese, about ½ cup
Butter, softened, about 4 or 5 tablespoons
How you make it
- Chop the garlic and put it in a food processor or blender with a tablespoon of oil, and pulse it briefly.
- Add the pignoli and walnuts and pulse again.
- Add the basil leaves and pulse again.
- Add the butter and pulse again.
- Add the grated cheese with a dash of salt and pepper and pulse again.
A few notes: You’ll want to mix this while the spaghetti is still hot (to tone down the garlic) but you can certainly serve this cold—especially if you serve it on tortellini. Pesto is of course great on its own, but basil and tomatoes make a classic combination, so I often throw in some halved cherry tomatoes with the spaghetti. You can also use pesto as a spread—put some on a roll and toast it before making a caprese sandwich, for example, or toss it with some grilled veggies. You can also use it in place of tomato sauce when making pizza.
Pesto will lose its color when it oxidizes. To save pesto in the fridge, pour a thin layer of olive oil on top to prevent the air from getting to it (you’ll still want to cover it to prevent any accidental spills). You can also put some in an ice tray and freeze it—that way, you can pop out a cube or two whenever you need, for the next few months.