Pesto was first made, or so the story goes, in Liguria, that area along the Mediterranean in the uppermost western part of Italy. You know, where the Cinque Terre are? Those five small, idyllic fishing villages that Rick Steves forever put on the map?
(See? The area really is all that. I guess I can't really blame Rick Steves after all. I'm just a little bummed the area is now overflowing with 50-something year old mid-Westerners with Tevas and fanny packs.)
Back to the story: the year was 1995. I had just arrived in Italy for the first time...taking a train from the Côte d'Azur, landing in Santa Margherita Ligure. If you ever go to visit this area, you must stay there. It's not one of the Cinque Terre, but it is about 20 minutes away by train (on one of the most spectacular stretches of railway imaginable). There's more to do there (which still isn't much) and the town is just gorgeous. We got off the train, checked into a little pensione and headed straight down to the waterfront. There, we found a restaurant that had seating out on a little terrace, but also had a few tables out at the end of the dock. On the Mediterranean. We chose to sit there. I asked the waiter to bring out whatever he recommended, he gave me a knowing nod of approval and returned a few minutes later with a plate of lasagna al pesto. It had what seemed like hundreds of layers the lightest lasagne layered with bright green pesto, just a bit of cheese and the tiniest green beans scattered throughout. It was simply divine. One of those food experiences that stays with you forever. So, whenever I eat pesto to this day, I still get transported back to that meal (lucky me). That's why I make pesto very, very often.
I like my pesto with a little more substance than most, so I add a bit more pine nuts and cheese. I don't like it to just taste like basil oil. You can add more or less of any of the ingredients -- just make it the way you like it.
About 2 c. lightly packed basil leaves, washed and dried thoroughly
1/2 c. toasted pine nuts
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmiggiano Reggiano
2 garlic cloves
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Place the basil, pine nuts, cheese and garlic in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the ingredients are incorporated, but not completely smooth. You want some texture. Gradually add the olive oil until the mixture is emulsified. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss with hot pasta, spread onto pieces of grilled bread, mix into ricotta to use as a dip for veggies, whatever. This stuff is good.