I always look forward to my annual trip to visit Aunt Ro and Uncle Rock in Cape Cod. Aunt Ro is my Italian “mother” from Boston, and she is quite the character. Between her and Uncle Rock, its a roller coaster of a weekend that always includes fishing, hauling lobster traps, digging for steamers (aka clams), site seeing around the Cape. Oh, and lots of food. Anything we catch from the sea turns into a gourmet dinner, typically accompanied by herbs and veggies picked straight from Uncle Rock’s enormous garden.
Aunt Ro and I spend a significant amount of time in the garden and kitchen when we’re together. My mom likes to call us the Dream Team. Hours go by as we talk about recipes, cooking techniques, ingredients, gardening, table settings, and anything else remotely food related. We have very similar cooking philosophies: don’t measure anything; garlic is your friend; each dish has a form of cheese that compliments it; use the highest quality ingredients; always have a glass of wine around when you’re in the kitchen.
Any time you visit Aunt Ro, you are almost guaranteed to have one thing: a fragrant green treasure known as pesto. And not just any pesto – it is probably the best pesto you will ever eat! While contemporary cooking has created a multitude of variations on the Italian dish, which include sun-dried tomatoes, other herbs such as marjoram and parsley, spinach, even broccoli, Aunt Ro sticks to the classic form.
Pesto is a versatile condiment. A short list of quick-to-make ways to use pesto includes:
- Spread on a slice of fresh bread (homemade or from the bakery)
- Drizzle over slices of rotisserie chicken and halved cherry tomatoes
- Stir into various “naked” pastas (spaghetti, tortellini, farfalle, etc)
- Dollop on top of tomato soup
- Replace salad dressing
- Dip roasted vegetables (carrots, squash, asparagus)
I absolutely know you’ll love this recipe. Let me know what you put your pesto on!
Aunt Ro’s Famous Pesto
- 5 cups fresh basil
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 cup pine nuts
- 1 lemon, juiced and zested
- 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1-1.5 cups extra virgin olive oil (note 1)
1. Toast the pine nuts on the stove over medium heat until they start to brown slightly, approximately 4-5 minutes. Make sure that you stir them slowly, otherwise they will cook unevenly and possibly scorch on one side. Once browned, distribute evenly on a paper towel and allow to cool.
2. Place basil in a food processor. Pulse a couple of times to break up the basil, but do not completely puree it.
3. Add garlic to the food processor.
4. Turn on the food processor as you slowly pour the olive oil. Add half a cup at a time, stopping the processor in between batches to check the consistency. You are ultimately looking for a moist, almost creamy consistency.
5. Add cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest. Pulse a few times to incorporate.
6. You can serve the pesto immediately, or store for up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator. If you are storing, place pesto in a sealable container, and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. This will ensure your pesto maintains its color and doesn’t dry out.
Note 1: The quality of olive oil is absolutely crucial to the flavor of the pesto. Please, for the love of Italian food, don’t use the mediocre oil from the grocery store. Specialty stores are very easy to find these days, and if the happens to not be one convenient for you, the internet is also a great place to order quality olive oil.