Summer’s not truly complete for me until I make my favorite pasta sauce of all time — fresh basil pesto. The simple sauce, light and packed with garlicky flavor, is the perfect accompaniment to a warm September afternoon (and of course, some chilled wine on the side doesn’t hurt either). I’ve been making this recipe with my mom since I was a little girl, and I’ve never failed to clean my plate. And as my taste palette matured with age and I stopped eating chicken fingers for every meal, I began to experiment with pesto sauce beyond the realms of pasta. Whether mixed into hummus or spread generously onto a panini, pesto can be used to spice up any of your traditional meals. Do note, however, that not all pesto is equal — if you’re not careful, you could wind up with a sad, bland green sauce that would give Lydia Bastianich a coronary. For example, the recipe below, Pesto Genovese, originally called for both Parmigiano and Romano cheese. However, my mom, who lovingly refers to Parmigiano as “sawdust,” prefers to use solely Romano. No offense Parm, but we Hallinans take our cheese (and pesto) very seriously.
This glorious (and Lydia-approved) pesto can be ready in under 10 minutes if you use a food processor or blender, considering prep time. Once prepared, serve with pasta (make sure you do the starchy water step!) some fresh bread, and grilled vegetables. And of course, don’t forget that chilled glass of wine.
PESTO GENOVESE WITH PASTA
2 cups of solidly packed basil leaves, washed and dried
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup of pine nuts
Generous 1/2 tsp. salt
2 twists of freshly milled black pepper
3/4 cup of freshly grated Romano or Pecorino Sardo cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbs. hot water from the drained pasta
- Put the basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts, salt, pepper, and oil into your blender/food processor. Blend into a smooth puree, and be sure to scrape the sides so everything mixes.
- Add cheese and butter, mix for 15 seconds, give or take.
- Scrape the sides, blend again for a few seconds. DO NOT OVER BLEND. You want your pesto to have a nice texture. Scrape out and prepare to serve.
- Before mixing with pasta, add in the tablespoon of starchy water and mix well.