Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Tagliatelle al Pesto Genovese: A Ligurian Treat

Brilliant green with an intense sweet perfume, Pesto alla Genovese is the pride of Genoa, the bright, earthy and pungent sauce originating in the Liguria region of northern Italy. The name comes from the Genovese word 'pestare', which means to 'pound' or 'crush', however the ingredients in traditional pesto aren't in fact pounded, but ground with the circular motion of a pestle in mortar. I realize that chopping the ingredients by hand, and not blending them, prevents the ingredients from becoming a completely homogenized emulsion or paste, however I freely admit to using a Cuisinart food processor with great success using gentle pulses — restraint is the key. 

Pesto Genovese

Traditional Pesto alla Genovese consists of Genovese basil, Ligurian extra virgin olive oil, garlic, salt, European pine nuts and grated cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano and Fiore Sardo — a sheep's milk cheese from Sardinia — or Pecorino Romano. Trofie and Trenette are the pasta traditionally used in Liguria, but Linguine or Tagliatelle are also excellent choices with this sauce, and as well potato gnocchi. Simple, vibrant and delicious, this classic sauce is so versatile: it can be made in less than 10 minutes, and also freezes well, bringing summer sunshine to winter braises, stews, soups and so much more.

Tagliatelle alla Pesto Genovese
Serves 4

3 cups fresh basil leaves, firmly packed 
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 tsp Maldon or kosher salt
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tbsp Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated, plus 1/2 cup for garnish
2 tbsp pecorino, grated
1 lb quality dried tagliatelle pasta

Gently wash the basil in cold water and pat dry with a towel. Place all of the basil, garlic, salt and olive oil in a food processor and blend 10-15 seconds, to form a thick paste, stopping once to scrape down the bowl. Add the pine nuts, and process another 10 seconds or more, scraping down the bowl again once or twice, creating a uniformly smooth bright-green paste. Add the grated cheeses to the bowl, and pulse a few times just to blend in. When you're ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until 'al dente' - tender yet firm. Drain the pasta well and toss with the pesto. Serve immediately in warm bowls with a sprinkle of Parmigiano.

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