The new Calgary Farmers' Market was all abuzz this weekend with eager shoppers foraging for fresh fruit and veg, all manner of meats, sweet things, baking, crafts, coffee, bagels, seafood and many varieties of prepared foods. It is quite the scene, busy and bustling, bursting at the seams, much like it was in its previous location. After a stroll and survey of goods, I came upon some basil sellers with jars of pesto lined up on a display shelf which, of course, prompted a little voice in my head to say: "I can do that!". Home I went with a fragrant bag of neon green organic basil which said one thing and one thing only to me: pesto.
Making pesto is like sending your nose on a vacation, yielding a deeply aromatic bright green paste that is most magnificent tossed with some really toothsome Italian pasta. The pungency of fresh basil suspended in an emulsion of peppery extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, gently toasted pine nuts and freshly grated Parmesan cheese is the finest example of olfactory overload.
Italian purists in Genoa will tell you the best pesto is pounded up in a mortar and pestle, but my food processor works just fine. Wash the basil and separate the leaves from the stems. Don't worry too much about completely drying the leaves. Some water on the basil actually assists with the blending process.
4 cups packed fresh basil leaves; 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted until golden (these burn quickly, so watch them closely); 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese; 2 large cloves garlic; 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil.
Puree all the ingredients together in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper to taste, as well as with a pinch or two of peperoncino if you like. You will have a thick paste. Thin paste with a little bit of pasta cooking water to loosen slightly, enough to coat pasta easily. Best the day it is made but can keep, covered, in the fridge, for a couple of days. Freezes well.
This recipe makes enough pesto for a 1 pound box of pasta. Fusili lends itself very well to this sauce, as its little grooves trap all the flecks and flavour of the pesto. Fettucine is another good pasta choice, as are little shells. You will love the vibrant green tone and intense flavour of this hard-working condiment. It is also excellent stirred into minestrone soups.
Here are some pasta-rific titles you may enjoy: