5-Minute Basil Pesto

Gemelli with 5-Minute Basil Pesto
Gemelli with 5-Minute Basil Pesto

Got 5 minutes? You can be eating pasta with fresh and flavorful basil pesto, pesto alla Genovese, in no time.

This pesto hails from Liguria on the northern Italian coast where small leaf basil grows on the hills around Genoa overlooking the Italian Riviera. The roots of North Beach’s Liguria Bakery, famous for it’s foccacia, are in this region of Italy.

I don’t have Ligurian basil so I’m using organic Bay Area basil instead. You can use your local basil as well. Traditionally the pesto is made with a mortar and pestle but I’m using a food processor. It’s fast and yields a fine paste.

The main ingredients are basil, pine nuts (pinoli), garlic, grated parmigiano and pecorino, and a really good extra virgin olive oil. Use the best ingredients you can afford.

Pine nuts from China are prevalent in the market and cheaper but they taste waxy and don’t have the full, clean, nutty flavor of Italian pine nuts so buy Italian pinoli if you can.

The Ligurian version is usually made with trenette, a flat long pasta or trofie, a short twisted pasta. I used gemelli (twins) a short twisted pasta pretty close to the hard to find trofie.

This is an uncooked sauce. Just process all the ingredients in a food processor. The pesto will be ready way before the pasta water comes to a boil.

The short twisted toothy gemelli burst with fresh flavor. The aromatic basil immediately tingles your tongue followed by the nutty flavor of the pinoli and buttery olive oil. The parmigiano, pecorino and just an echo of fresh garlic round out each bite. So simple and so delicious.

A few years ago we got lucky on a visit to Rome. My friend Guiliano who lives in the historical center had just returned from visiting his family in Genoa and he invited us over for dinner. He brought just-picked Ligurian basil back with him and he was making pesto for us. He added cubes of potato and green beans to the pasta and coated it all with the best pesto I’ve ever eaten.

For my American friends adding potato and green beans to this dish is controversial. I like it that way but many don’t. They just want pasta coated with basil pesto. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.

If you want to make the traditional Genovese version, cut the potato in 1/2 chunks. Cut off the stem end of the green beans and cut them into 2-inch pieces. When the pasta water comes to a boil add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes then add the green beans and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the pasta and cook to al dente. Strain the pasta, potatoes and beans out of the water, put them all in a bowl, add the pesto and mix to coat everything well.

Basil pesto is the most famous but there are many, many more. Try my Pesto Trapanese from Sicily with cherry tomatoes and almonds for a different taste treat. It’s one of 3 sauces I made for my potato gnocchi.

Buon appetito!

5-Minute Basil Pesto
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound (500 grams) gemelli or your favorite short cut pasta
  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ tablespoon sea salt plus 3 tablespoons for the pasta water
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to cover the pesto
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigianno-Reggiano
  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
Instructions
  1. Put 5 quarts of water with 3 tablespoons of sea salt over high heat and bring it to a boil.
  2. In the meantime, put the basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil in the food-processor bowl. Process 10 to 15 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl, to form a coarse paste.
  3. Put the pine nuts in the food processor and process another 10 seconds, scrape down the bowl midway, until you create a uniform, smooth bright-green paste.
  4. Add the grated cheeses to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine.
  5. The pesto should be thick but flowing. If it is to stiff add a bit more olive oil.
  6. The pesto will be fine at room temperature until you cook the pasta. (If you keep it out longer, cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil so it doesn't discolor.)
  7. Cook the pasta to al dente, strain and put into a bowl. (Reserve some of the pasta cooking water.)
  8. Add the pesto and mix to coat the pasta well. If the pasta is too dry add some of the pasta cooking water.
  9. Top each serving with a light drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of grated cheese.
  10. Serve immediately.
  11. (To store the pesto longer, cover the surface of the pesto with plastic wrap, close the container tightly and refrigerate or freeze the pesto. Let the stored pesto come back to room temperature before using.)

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Greens & Ricotta Cake

Don’t miss the next recipe video: Subscribe now to my YouTube channel.

Torta Pasqualina
Celebrate the end of Lent with torta Pasqualina, a savory Easter cake.

Easter is a relaxed holiday. There’s a saying “Natale con i tuoi. Pasqua con chi vuoi.” Christmas with your family. Easter with whomever you like. In Italy the Easter celebration spills over to Monday, called La Pasquetta, when Italians like to eat al fresco or go on a picnic.

Torta Pasqualina, Easter cake, is traditionally served as an antipasto on the Easter table. Torta Pasqualina is best at room temperature so it’s good to go for your picnic too.

The torta includes traditional symbolic Easter foods. Before modern production, eggs were costly and only available this time of year so eggs and tender leafy greens are a reminder of spring awakening.

The dough for the crust is fun to make. It’s pliable enough so that you can stretch it and roll it out really thin. If making dough doesn’t sound like fun to you, use puff pastry instead.

Chard and baby spinach sautéed with onion in olive oil and brightened by fresh marjoram forms the first layer. Ricotta whipped light and fluffy with egg and parmigiano creates the second layer topped with a golden phyllo-like crust.

Spring lamb, “the Lamb of God” in all those Renaissance paintings, is a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice. So baby spring lamb is another traditional Easter food. If you’re looking for an Easter main course check out my abbacchio video, baby spring lamb roasted with rosemary and garlic served with golden potato wedges. And if you want help with the other courses, check out my Easter recipe roundup.

Buona Pasqua! Buon Appetito!

 

Torta Pasqualina: Easter Chard & Ricotta Pie
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Antipasto
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6-8
Ingredients
Crust
  • 2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2½ cups flour
  • 1½ cups water
Filling
  • 1 pound swiss chard
  • 1 pound spinach
  • 1 bunch of spring onions (or half an onion)
  • 1 pound ricotta, drained
  • ½ cup grated parmigiana
  • 9 eggs
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh marjoram
  • 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat parsley
  • sea salt freshly ground black pepper
Instructions
Crust
  1. You want to end up with 4 sheets, 2 for the base of a 10" inch spring form pan and 2 for the top crust.
  2. Dissolve the salt in the water then add the oil and stir.
  3. Put the flour in a large bowl. Add the water mixture.
  4. Mix the flour with a fork or knead it with you hand.
  5. When a dough has formed put it on a lightly-floured surface and knead it until it becomes smooth, about 2 or 3 minutes.
  6. Form the dough into a ball, wrap with plastic film and let sit at room temperature for about an hour.
Filling-Greens
  1. Blanch the chard and spinach in simmering water for about 3 minutes. Drain the greens and let them cool on a plate.
  2. When cool squeeze all the water out of the greens. You want them very dry.
  3. Roughly chop the greens.
  4. Chop the onion.
  5. Over medium-high heat put 2-tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan.
  6. When the oil starts to ripple add the onion and cook until the onion starts to turn translucent.
  7. Add the greens to the pan, add sea salt and pepper and mix well. Cook until the greens are tender.
  8. Put the greens in a bowl and add the chopped marjoram and let the greens cool.
  9. Put the ricotta in another bowl. Beat 3 eggs and add them to the ricotta along ¼ cup grated parmigiano, parsley, nutmeg (which I forgot to add in the video) and sea salt and black pepper to taste. Whisk all the ingredients together so that the ricotta mixture is well blended and fluffy.
Assembly
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Divide the dough in 4, roll 2 larger dough pieces (about 10 oz. each) to a thin sheet about a 13-inch diameter and the smaller balls (about 7 oz.) and roll out to to a thin sheet about 10-inches.
  3. Brush the bottom and sides of the baking pan well with olive oil.
  4. Spread one larger sheet of the pastry and spread it with evenly over the bottom of the pan and about up the side.
  5. Brush the pastry all over with oil.
  6. Put the second pastry sheet, put it on top of the first sheet and pat it so that the second sheet adheres to the first.
  7. Add the greens to the baking pan and spread them evenly over the bottom crust.
  8. Add the ricotta mixture and spread it evenly over the greens.
  9. Make an indentation with the back of the spoon in the center and then 5 indentations spread evenly mid-way between the center and the edge of the pan.
  10. Separate 6 eggs. Put an egg yolk in each indentation.
  11. Lightly beat the egg whites and spread a thin layer of the whites on top of the ricotta mixture and sprinkle grated parmigiano all over.
  12. Completely cover the top the ricotta layer with one of the smaller sheets. Press it to adhere to the side crust and brush it with olive oil.
  13. Lay the last small sheet on top to fully cover the cake and press this last sheet gently to adhere to the side crust.
  14. Cut off any dough that hangs over the side of the baking pan. Roll down the remaining dough on the sides, crimp with your fingers to form the edge of the crust an the circumference of the cake. Gently depress the edge with a fork to create a pretty top edge.
  15. Brush the top of the cake with olive oil.
  16. Bake the cake in the oven until the top crust is golden, about 45 minutes.
  17. Serve warm or at room temperature.