Trenette al pesto

 

‘Pesto alla genovese’, meaning ‘Genoa-style pesto’ is the most typical sauce from Liguria, mode with local ingredients and a loving preparation. Its key ingredient is basil, which is a very mercurial plant in how it drastically changes its flavor and perfume depending on the soil it is planted in, the water it is sprinkled with and the amount of exposition it gets to the sun. The official recipe for pesto actually calls for basil leaves from Pra, a specific district of Genoa, since it is said that just moving a few hundred meters away, it already yields a lower quality. This is possibly a slight exaggeration, yet it is true that all Italian basil comes from a few original plants imported by captain Bartolomeo Decotto as he returned from the First Crusade, but the leaves originating from Ligurian crops are incredibly much better flavored than others. If this doesn’t scare you off, we have provided the original recipe for pesto alla genovese, otherwise you can also buy a ready-made jar from an Italian deli. The Tigullio brand is, in our opinion, the closer you can find to the original taste. Either way, pesto is used in many recipes from this area, most notably in this traditional pasta dish. ‘Trenette’ is a specific shape of pasta: it looks like flattened spaghetti, sometimes with wavy edges. As usual with Italian pasta, the shape influences the way the condiments stick to it. Using the right shape will better balance the taste.

Ingredients (serves two)

150 g of trenette

400 g of fresh green beans

80 g of potatoes

Salt

Pine nuts

60 g of pesto genovese

To make your own homemade pesto:

50 g of fresh basil leaves

140 g of Fiore Sardo cheese

80 g of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Garlic

50 g of pine nuts

Extra virgin olive oil

Preparation

First start with the green beans, cutting the ends off. The remaining part must be cut in half. Put a large pot of water on the stove, and while you wait for it to boil, peel and dice the potatos. Drop the beans, the potatoes and the trenette in boiling water, salt it and cook until the pasta is ready. Save a little cooking water to dilute the pesto, mix everything carefully in order not to mash the potatoes, sprinkle a few pine nuts on your dish and enjoy.

Too simple? Of course it is. The real fun with this recipe comes from making your own pesto, which is an art in itself. In fact, chefs from all over the world converge in Genoa once a year to take part in a competition where the best pesto-maker is crowned. Managing to get hold of some good basil isn’t enough. To make good  pesto you will also need a traditional marble mortar and a pear-wood pestle: you cannot use a mixer, because the metal blade will oxidize the basil leaves, ruining their taste. The very hard pear wood pestle will also enervate the leaves extracting their full flavor and aroma, while cutting them won’t. If you are still with us, start by putting the garlic (one or two cloves at most), and ten large grains of sea salt into the mortar. Mashing them first will prevent the basil from turning dark and less visually appealing. Next, toss in the basil, and when the consistency is uniform add the pine nuts and cheese. Keep mashing and at this point add the olive oil  – very slowly –until you have a smooth sauce. It’s all worth it, believe us.