Summer's End Pesto

I picked up some sweet basil at the farmers' market yesterday and made a fabulous pesto for dinner. It's easy enough for anyone to fix and quick enough to prepare after work, and the flavors - sweet and tangy and earthy, with basil, cheese and aromatic garlic supported by nuts and olive oil - are just about enough to drive me crazy with delight.

I adapted this recipe from "Bugialli's Italy," a terrific cookbook, and served it over rotelle pasta, accompanied by grilled bread rubbed with a clove of garlic. One recipe of pesto over one pound of rotelle will serve four adults (perhaps as a side for grilled chicken or fish, or with a big salad) or two very hungry adults.

1 cup lightly packed fresh basil (washed and dried)
1 TBL fresh Italian parsley
2 medium sized cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or Parmesan or mix the two)
1/2 cup pignoli (pine nuts) or walnuts, toasted
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper (I use a whole teaspoon)
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (Get the good stuff - you'll notice the difference here.)
[The short version: process to a paste, add the oil, voila! Have a glass of wine.]

Throw everything but the olive oil into a food processor or blender and process until fairly smooth. You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl, to make sure everything gets well blended. Turn it off first (you know who I'm talking to), scrape down with a spatula, then process again.

Taste, and adjust salt and pepper to your liking. It should make you say: "Wow! That's good!"

Scrape the mixture into a glass bowl and slowly add the oil, folding it in with a fork or spatula, until it just becomes liquid. Depending on the moisture in your basil mixture, it may take up to 3/4 cup of oil. You can do this step in the blender/Cuisinart, if you want, by drizzling the oil while processing, but you'll get much more control over the consistency if you do it by hand.

That's it! Your pesto is ready to eat, though flavors will improve if you allow it to sit for an hour.

I like this pesto over pasta - something like rotelle, with enough texture to allow the pesto to cling - but even spaghetti will work fine. Drizzle a few teaspoons over your main course, too, or reserve a little extra pesto to pass at the table. Italians (especially Ligurians, from the northwest corner of Italy, near Geneva) also enjoy this style of pesto over gnocchi or boiled potatoes, mixed into soups and stews, added to sauces, as a spread on toasted bread, on/in scrambled eggs - and I'm sure in hundreds of more ways.

Pesto keeps in the fridge for several days, though the flavors tend to diminish after a week. It freezes well, too; use an ice tray to freeze cubes of pesto, so you can grab just enough to use in a dish.

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