I was forgiven, via facebook , for not making my own basil pesto to go with the spaghetti last night!! On her FB wall, my longest standing female friend posted an appreciative comment on the meal she shared with me and my sons last night: basil pesto and a panzanella salad for the ubiquitous pasta-on-Wednesday meal with sons.
I didn’t make my own pesto last night: thank goodness for Woolworths’ almost-as-good-as-homemade basil pesto, of which I bought two tubs on my way home, and two bottles of a goodish blanc de noir.
In my fridge I had been nursing leftover ciabbata from the weekend, waiting for an opportunity to make a panzanella: the recipe of which does not do justice to the unexpected wonderfulness of stale sticky Italian bread soaked in red wine vinegar and olive oil, chunks of tomato and cucumber, fresh basil shredded over it and the sweetness of a red onion diced finely to add a pungent undertone to the salad and no doubt a decided odour to breath the next day. I piled all the ingredients onto a huge plate, and later watched with satisfaction as the very last bit of bread was relished, the plate swept clean of every last morsel.
Last night I simply emptied the tubs of pesto into a pot with steaming spaghetti, but couldn’t help thinking then about my first taste of basil pesto, and being shown how to make it by my second husband. He was, in turn, taught by an Italian friend and restaurateur. We drove all over Johannesburg to find fresh basil and then yet another excursion to find pine nuts.. it is relatively recent(in the last 15yrs or so) that in SA these ingredients are easily obtainable: neither my grandmothers, or my mother, grew basil in their gardens, and I hardly ever had any pasta other than macaroni-cheese, or spaghetti bolognaise as a child.
I’ve grown basil in all my gardens since my first taste of basil pesto. There’s nothing quite like the distinctive green smell of basil leaves being plucked from the stems, garlic being crushed, parmesan grated gruntingly by me (a properly stored chunk of parmigiano reggiano can get hard to grate without having a knuckle scraped).And then, when the food processor starts whirring and the thick gloopy emulsified pesto dollops out of the beaker eventually: there’s nothing that says summer to me more than that fragrance: except maybe the smell of a lawn being mown or the taste of sweet white flesh of red skinned peaches.
It’s only later that I started making basil pesto in a pestle and mortar: even more satisfying, if noisy and time consuming: a pinch of Maldon sea salt at the bottom of the mortar, then a clove or two of garlic, then slightly toasted pine nuts, and then the basil leaves only a couple at the time, while all the time pounding and pushing the ingredients against the sides of the mortar, adding olive oil and parmesan as you go, until you have a bowl heaving with a deep green paste. When you do it in the food processor, the texture is finer and it is a uniform lighter green. Handmade it is dark green with an uneven texture with the ingredients still evident: a half kernel of pine nut, a slick of unblended garlic.
I don’t ever use the food processor anymore to make basil pesto, and sometimes like last night I don’t even make it myself. But it remains one of the most satisfying culinary experiences for me: the making, smelling, tasting, and sharing thereof.