Pesto Pronto

On past trips to Europe, I always seemed to be on a mission; a mission to see every church, every piece of artwork, and every place of historical significance.  I always returned exhausted.  This time, things were different.  My (kid-free!) vacation was all about kicking back, slowing the pace, and naturally, doing lots of eating.  I was in Italy and France—arguably two of the best food destinations on earth.  I was in foodie heaven!


Our first stop was the Italian Riviera, near Genova, the home of Pesto Genovese.  Those of you who have followed my blog know I’m a pesto freak, so this was a treat.  The first night I was excited to put the pesto to the testo (sorry, couldn’t resist).  I ordered “spaghetti al pesto”, and was surprised when it reached the table.  There were no actual flecks of basil —- just a smooth, pale green sauce that was almost infused into the pasta, which shared the same pale green color.  When I commented that their pesto looked so different from what we had back at home, the owner replied with a bit of a smirk, “because ours is fresh.”  (I think many Italians think we Americans eat everything out of a can, jar, or at McDonald’s.)  Rather than get into a debate, I let that one slide and asked how she prepared the pesto.  She told me it was simply basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan cheese, and salt/pepper.  Nothing else.   Hmmmm….I wasn’t sure I believed her, but I decided to drop it and enjoy the dish, which was absolutely delicious.

Another night, another pesto.  The next evening’s restaurant featured a light and fluffy potato gnocchi with pesto.  It was the same consistency and color as the previous night’s dish.  Once again, I asked the owner how this pesto was different that what I made at home.  She said she had a secret—she put a little bit of ricotta cheese into the mixture to make it “piu cremosa” (creamier).  Ah HA!  I love an honest cook!

The next day I had” trofie al pesto” for lunch (trofie is a hand-rolled pasta typical of this area), but this time I was asked if I wanted it in the “Ligurian style” (Liguria is the region in which Genova is situated).  I learned that this meant that cubed potatoes and green beans were tossed in with the pasta and pesto.  .  Surprisingly, the pesto in this dish was darker green with lots of visible basil, much like my own.  It was also very good, but I decided I preferred the lighter colored version a bit better.  Even with the ricotta, it seemed somehow lighter. 

I just brought home a great big bunch of basil from the farmers market, and will add a tablespoon or two of fresh ricotta cheese to my pesto.  Believe it or not, I’m still not sick of it!


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