Pimping Pestos

South West Rocks Pine Trees

South West Rocks Pine Trees



175ml extra virgin olive oil
75gr pine nuts
1 garlic clove
150gr fresh basil leaves
100gr Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2 ice cubes

• Toast the pine nuts, wash the basil, grate the cheese, chop the garlic
• Put 50ml of oil in the food processor together with the pine nuts and garlic and blend into a paste
• Add the rest of the oil, the basil and the ice cubes and blend briefly until amalgamated
• Add the parmesan and salt and pulse quickly until incorporated
• Done

The traditional way to use pesto is with “trofie”: a Ligurian handmade pasta that looks a bit like a skinny gnocchi. I attempted that once and obtained a glutinous mass that stuck to the pot for eternity. In my wiser days, I now use pesto to dress spaghetti or as a spread with bread or celery sticks.

You can swap the pine nuts for cashew, if you like. It is not traditional, but it tastes good. Use extra virgin olive oil: it is cold pressed and the best and – as with all Italian cooking – it is the ingredients that make the difference.

The recipe above comes from “A Year of Family Recipes” by Lesley Wild; the cookbook of Betty’s of Harrogate’s, one of my favourite tearooms. I trust it because the author’s source is the chef of the Splendido Hotel in Portofino, the Grande Dame of Ligurian hotels.

I often cheat and add extra cheese because, as dad used to say, “al furmai le un gran ruffian”, which is a Modenese dialect say that translates literally as: “cheese is a great pimp”. Dad loved proverbs; he had one for every occasion and he used to deploy them liberally accompanied by a knowing grin; they were his fool-proof way to win an argument: only a fool would attempt arguing with the pearls of wisdom distilled and passed on by our ancestors and anyway how does one disprove something like: “cheese is a great pimp”? His debating technique bored me and – I suspect – half of his friends senseless but I have to give it to him: years after his death, I still remember his proverbs…

Whatever you do, don’t change the cheese: don’t be tempted by cheddar or by the dreaded Grana Padano, which is a much inferior cheese to Parmigiano Reggiano and cheaper for a reason: it holds its shape to maturity thanks to a whiff of formalin added to the mix instead of the traditional Parmigiano, which is all natural and only holds to maturity if the cows the milk comes from are hormone free and have been fed an unadulterated diet. If you can’t find proper Parmigiano at your local deli, move.

OK that might be a touch strong. If you can’t find proper Parmigiano, make this other pesto instead:

Use equal quantities of pecorino cheese and toasted walnuts. Grate the cheese, blend in the food processor with the nuts and enough extra virgin olive oil to form a paste. Add salt, if needed. Use as above to dress pasta.

Ivonne, my best friend’s mum from university times, was used to keep a jar of this in the fridge at all times for easy dinners and Laura, who was maid of honour at our wedding still talks about the ribbon pasta dressed in this nutty pesto that she ate at a Tuscan restaurant in Modena after the ceremony.

Buon appetito.

Maurizio Viani