I once had a bowl of trofie al pesto for dessert. We were young, carefree, and on the Italian Riviera, Zelda and I. We wandered into just any trattoria. The pasta arrived at the table. I can only describe it as indescribably delicious. When the chef emerged from the kitchen, I lunged to hug him as he asked if we wanted dessert. All I could say was, “Yes, Si, more trofie al pesto.” He laughed and obliged.
I am always amazed by how far Pesto Genovese in America has strayed from its original, ideal perfection. How could something 1,200 years old and so beautiful, be so damned by one generation? Watered-down, over-salted, creamed, and mixed with chicken.
It’s time for pesto’s second act in America. I’ve gone to the Consortium of Pesto Genovese Producers in Liguria for the official recipe. Here are a few ground rules:
1) Use a marble mortar and a pestle (or a food processor on pulse mode as a second choice).
2) Don’t be cheap with the ingredients. Use the freshest basil you can find. Wash it gently and pat it dry. Use Italian olive oil, cheese, and pine nuts.
3) Trofie and trenette are the preferred pasta choices.
4) Practice and enjoy the process.
5) Because you’re worth it.
Gently wash the basil in cold water and pat dry with a towel. Crush a clove of garlic in a mortar and add some basil (30 leaves per clove), and then a pinch of salt. Using a gentle circular motion, use the mortar to pound the basil until it turns into a bright green oily liquid. Repeat this process until all the basil and garlic are added. Add the pine nuts and gently crush them into the mixture. Add the cheese and slowly drizzle in the olive oil while mixing together. Avoid turning the sauce into a puree; it should have a fine, leafy consistency.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Cook the pasta until al dente (about 2 minutes less than package directions). Drain, retain some of the cooking water, and place in a large, warm serving bowl. Slowly mix in the pesto sauce. Add some of the cooking water if the pasta seems too dry.
Serve immediately with grated Parmigiano.
* If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can use a food processor, but use it on pulse mode, so as to avoid turning this into a puree. There should be a fine, leafy consistency.