I remember the first time I ate pesto - it was in Milan a very long time ago. I was sitting at the kitchen table watching with slight disbelief as my friend was spooning what seemed like a tiny quantity of bright green paste into my spaghetti while trying to convince me that it was going to taste delicious. It tasted so different to anything I had eaten before and yes, I was seriously happy to eat something that good.
A few years later I travelled to the home of pesto, Liguria, to stay with my dear friend Patrizia who has taught me an inordinate amount about Italian cooking over the years. Basil grown in Liguria has a distinctive flavour created by the combination of hot sun and the harsh growing conditions of the sea and mountain soil. Here, pesto is eaten with fresh trofie pasta, boiled green beans and potatoes, it’s vibrant green and very filling.
If you go to Liguria, you’ll come across small local shops that only sell basil pesto, walnut pesto and fresh trofie pasta. Buy some and eat it. The green pesto they make is a beautiful sea green emerald which looks like it’s had whipped cream folded through (it hasn’t!). It tastes sublime.
This recipe is from Patrizia’s grandmother and she would only ever make pesto with a pestle and mortar. Her grandmother lived to over hundred. She always made a big batch of pesto so some could be stored in glass jars (topped off with olive oil to help preserve the pesto for months in the fridge) to use during the winter as a serious flavour boost to her fresh minestrone soup. I use a mini chopper to make the pesto as it’s so much quicker and good enough!
Miraculous ingredients: Basil leaves, pine nuts, Parmigiano Reggiano (Parmesan), extra virgin olive oil, trofie pasta (M&S sell the Bartolini brand which is very good) or good quality spaghetti (Giuseppe Cocco is excellent)
60g basil leaves (stalks removed)
20g pine nuts
50g Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan)
10g Sardinian pecorino cheese (if you can’t find this cheese, use more parmesan as a substitute)
1 garlic clove (a small clove)
½ teaspoon of coarse sea salt
50ml extra virgin olive oil
500g trofie pasta or spaghetti (if you can't find good trofie)
Add the garlic and pine nuts to a mini chopper and blend until finely chopped. Next, add the salt and basil leaves (remove the stalks). Add the grated parmesan and blitz again. Finally, add the olive oil and pulse the mini chopper only a few times to blend the oil with all the ingredients. Scrape the pesto out of the mini chopper and place in a large serving bowl.
Place a large pan that can hold a good 3 litres of water onto a high heat. When the water starts to boil add a teaspoon of salt and all the spaghetti.
When the spaghetti is al dente (soft on the outside but slightly hard in the middle) take a 2-3 spoons of pasta water and mix it with the pesto to loosen the sauce and make it even creamier. Add all the drained spaghetti to the large serving bowl and mix the pesto into the spaghetti. Add more pasta water if the sauce is too dry and serve immediately.
Preparation time 5 minutes, cooking 10 minutes, serves 4