Originating in Genoa, in the Ligurian region of northern Italy, Pesto alla Genovese traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil, and pine nuts blended with olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Fiore Sardo, an Italian cheese made from sheep's milk. The name comes from the Italian 'pestare', which means to pound, to crush, in reference to the original method of preparing pesto with a marble mortar and wooden pestle. Italians also use walnuts for pesto, as they lend a rich earthiness to the pesto sauce, and are much more affordable than pine nuts. This foolproof recipe from my dogeared copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins quip that this sauce is "more Mastroianni than DeNiro: suave, mellow, even elegant. Walnuts and heavy cream add sophistication to the basil garlic duo — a pesto that is equally at home on pasta, fluffed into hot rice or stirred into homemade mayonnaise as a sauce for cold poached fish or crudités". It is however right at home with spaghettini, linguine or any other thin pasta.
Basil Pesto Spaghettini
1 lb spaghettini, linguine or fettucine
1 1/2 tbsp salt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup homemade pesto
1/2 cup freshly grated imported pecorino or parmigiano
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the salt and then when the water returns to a boil add the pasta. Use a wooden spoon to stir the pasta until all the stands are under the water. Boil rapidly until done to taste. To test, occasionally lift and bite a strand. Stir in 2 tablespoons of hot pasta water and the heavy cream to the pesto. Drain the pasta in a colander and return to the hot pan. Stir in the pesto and toss well to combine. Serve immediately on warm plates. Garnish with additional pepper and a bowl of grated cheese on the side if desired.
Basil & Walnut Pesto
Makes 2 cups
2 cups fresh basil leaves thoroughly washed and patted dry
4 good-size garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 cup shelled walnuts
1 cup best-quality olive oil
1 cup freshly grated imported Parmigiano
1/2 cup freshly grated imported Romano
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Combine the basil, garlic and walnuts in the bowl of food processor and chop. Leave the motor running and add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream. Shut the motor off, add the cheeses, a big pinch of salt and a liberal grinding of pepper. Process briefly to combine, then scrape out into a bowl and cover with a thin film of olive oil on top, until ready to use; freezes well.