13 March 2011

St. Patrick's Day, Eating Green with Pesto

In Boston St. Patrick's Day is a big deal, especially in South Boston. A time to eat corned beef and cabbage and drink green beer. I don't remember St. Patrick's Day being a big deal while growing up. We had the day off from school because it was Evacuation Day which commemorates the British withdrawal from the siege of Boston in 1776. I don't remember eating corned beef and cabbage as a kid either. For us, a boiled dinner was minestra (menestra). I also don't remember eating or drinking anything green.

But pesto is green and I recently learned that Saint Patrick may be of Italian, or a least Roman descent. So, I was thinking that maybe pesto would be something to make in honor of San Pasquale.

My mother almost always served pasta with a red, meaning tomato, sauce. The primary exceptions were Aglio Olio and Spaghetti with the Clam Sauce (white). Actually it wasn't called pasta, it was spaghetti, linguine, vermicelli, etc. Anything short was called macaroni. I always thought that the preference for a red sauce was a southern Italian thing. All my grandparents were born in Avellino and three of them were born in Torre. After my father passed away I found out that we usually had pasta with tomato sauce because that was what he liked. My mother started making different sauces to serve over pasta. She had grown up in the Pacific Northwest and was very close to her god-parents' family who were genovese. My mother learned about basil pesto from them. Eventually I learned to make pesto for myself.

I got a basil pesto recipe from the 1975 edition of Joy of Cooking page 571.

"Pound in a mortar about 1 1/2 cups of fresh basil leaves. Add and pound 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup pine nuts. Add, until the mixture forms a thick puree about 3/4 cup of thinly grated Sardinia or Parmesan cheese. When the mixture is really thick, add very slowly, stirring constantly about 3/4 cup olive oil until the consistency of creamed butter. Put a film of olive olive oil over the top. Cover and refrigerate or freeze".

And modified it to fit my purposes.

I didn't know what Sardinia cheese was. My family always served pecorino romano rather than parmesan so I substituted. After googling Sardinia cheese to write this, it appears that I may have used a similar ingredient.

Pine nuts were always called pignoli.

My ingredients:

1 1/2 cups fresh basil, 2 garlic cloves, 1/4 cup pignolis, 3/4 cup romano pecorino cheese, 3/4 cup olive oil

The recipe said "pound in a mortar" and "stir". I used a food processor.

Sunbeam food processor

I started with the basil.

Basil added, and chopped

Next came the garlic.


Then the pignolis.


Add some cheese.

Romano Pecorino

After the olive oil has been added and mixed in, it looks like this.

Oil's been added

I don't know if it has the consistency  of creamed butter, but as far as I'm concerned it's ready for freezing

or eating.

Basil Pesto over Veal Tortellini

About half the time I forget to put a film of olive oil over the top of the pesto. It doesn't seem to make a difference.

Joy of Cooking suggests that parsley may be substituted for basil, but as they say the flavor is very different. I've tried it and it doesn't work for me.

Lastly, somewhere (probably on a package of sun dried tomatoes) I saw a suggestion to add sun dried tomatoes to pesto. I tried that too. While it was a much better experience for me than parsley pesto, I don't think I'll repeat it.

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