Basil is aplenty at DC’s farmers’ markets. This week, my favorite farmer was selling massive bags of the stuff for just $3.99. I probably came home with a good 2 pounds of basil — hard to imagine considering how light it is. There was only one thing to do: make pesto.
The last time I blogged about pesto, I largely focused on the method. Heidi at 101 Cookbooks had written about making pesto like an Italian grandmother, and I was inspired enough by her post to give the old fashioned knife-on-board method a try. The result was wonderful — chunky and rustic, with plenty of the irregularity that’s the hallmark of handmade things. But given how busy I’ve been at work lately, standing in the kitchen slaving over chopped basil just wasn’t in the cards for today. Instead, I followed the sage advice of another Italian grandmother, Marcella Hazan. I pulled her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking off the shelf and set about to make pesto using her (apparently sanctioned) food processor method.
Before you roll your eyes and call me a fraud, it’s in her book: Pesto, food processor method. Apparently the Italian goddess is fine with it. Plus, if that’s not enough evidence for you, I once heard Lynn Rosetto Casper, the formidable chef and host of APM’s radio show The Splendid Table, say that if you go to the Liguria region of Italy, to Genoa, where pesto originated, and follow the tips from the locals to the actual neighborhood in Genoa where pesto was actually invented, the Italian grandmothers there use food processors! That was the last time I had a second thought about whizzing the stuff together.
I think Hazan’s recipe is the best one I’ve ever made. The balance between basil, pine nuts, raw, pungent garlic, and Parmigiano Reggiano and Romano cheeses is just teetering in equilibrium. I also used a truly olive-y olive oil that I got on a twitter rec (Aria, available at Whole Foods), which may have made the difference. In any event, it’s a recipe I wouldn’t hesitate to make again. So hurry out to your market while basil’s still available, and try this pesto. It’d even make Marcella proud.
Marcella Hazan’s Pesto
I doubled the recipe and got about a pint, so this makes about 1/2 a pint
2 cups tightly packed basil leaves
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped fine before being added to the processor
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 tablespoons grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons butter, softened
Blend all ingredients except cheese and butter until relatively smooth. Fold in cheese by hand to give that chunky, rustic texture. Fold in softened butter, incorporating it evenly into the pesto.
If freezing, do not add cheese and butter; add to thawed pesto just before serving. Top with a thin layer of olive oil, which will help keep pesto green.