Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Pesto Perfection!

Pesto can be a persnickety thing, especially among purists (please pardon the puns!)  But cookbook author Erica Demane, who penned The Southern Flavors of Italy says it need not be. Erica told Tonia's Kitchen the pesto most Americans are familiar with comes from the Genoa area of Italy and contains pine nuts.  Her version has both basil and almonds, along with fresh mint and tomato.  The result, it tastes a little fresher.  Erica told Tonia she adds garlic, olive oil and salt to the mix as well, but not cheese.  It turns out to be a great sauce for grilled fish, especially swordfish.

½ cup unsalted, shelled pistachios, lightly toasted
½ cup blanched almonds, lightly toasted
1 small garlic clove, roughly chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil, preferably an estate-bottled Sicilian oil such as Ravida
About 20 basil leaves
¾ pound pennette (small penne)
A handful of chopped fennel fronds for garnish (if you can find wild fennel that will be best, but I used the fronds from bulb fennel, which weren’t bad)
Put up a pot of pasta cooking water and bring it to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt.
Put the pistachios and the almonds in the bowl of a food processor. Add the garlic, and give it a few quick pulses. Add about a third of a cup of olive oil and some salt, and pulse a few times more. You want to chop the nuts into little pieces, but you don’t want to create a paste. When the nuts are fairly uniformly chopped, add the basil, and pulse once or twice more, just to break it up. The texture should be pebbly.
Cook the pennette al dente, and drain, saving about a cup of the pasta cooking water.
Pour the pennette into a warmed serving bowl. Add the nut pesto and a few tablespoons of the cooking water. Toss well. Add a drizzle of extra olive oil if needed for texture. Taste for salt. Garnish with the fennel fronds. Serve.