At long last, spring is in full swing, but the winter was so long, cold, and miserable, that by this point you’ve probably forgotten how to subsist on anything besides pickled herring and vodka. Fortunately, most of us are no longer living in a Siberian-like wasteland and are free to turn our attention to more colorful, fresh, and flavorful forms of sustenance. And, man, nothing says “It’s spring!” to me like the smell of fresh basil. That’s probably because, throughout my childhood, whenever I picked up that scent, it usually meant my dad was making his famous pesto pasta – routinely one of the more joyous occasions in my young life. Yes, as a child, my favorite food was a pasta sauce made primarily out of leaves. Well, that and lobster. I had a very refined palette as a child, I guess.
In any case, I always loved my dad’s pesto so much, that eventually, like Anakin Skywalker passing down the ways of the force to his son, Luke, or how Archie Manning passed on his gigantic forehead to Peyton Manning, my dad entrusted its secrets to me. And now the time has finally come to share those secrets with the world.
Here’s what you’ll need:

A big ol’ bunch of fresh basil, washed and dried
A block of parmigiano-reggiano
A couple of handfuls of pine nuts (or walnuts)
A few cloves of garlic, minced
Olive oil
A box of pasta, like farfalle or fusilli
A yellow onion
Your choice of assorted veggies (zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, red bell pepper, mushrooms, etc.)
Salt and pepper
Optional: 1 lb. shrimp or squid

As you can see, the above proportions are highly unscientific. We’re gonna roll with it. I never learned exact measurements for this recipe and neither will you. Making pesto is more alchemy than exact science.

Now, you may need to go to a farmer’s market to get fresh basil, because grocery stores never, ever have it. I know this because I once spent an afternoon frantically driving around to something like half a dozen different stores in the Hudson Valley looking for basil just so I could make some goddamn pesto for dinner. I finally ended up in at Associated Supermarket, in Rosendale, NY, where they had small bunches of it with clumps of dirt stuck to the bottom of the stems sitting in these plastic sleeves – the kind that flowers come in. That was not the best batch of pesto I ever made. Anyway, if the fresh stuff isn’t available to you, then a couple of those plastic boxes they have at Whole Foods and the like will do in a pinch, but the smell and flavor is just not even close to comparable, so make of that what you will. As for the nuts, pine nuts are preferred, but since they have now reached a price point that falls somewhere between white truffles and the Hope Diamond, walnuts are a perfectly fine substitute for us proletarians.

Also, you should really have a food processor for making the pesto, but it {can} be done with a blender, so long as you’re OK with spending your evening violently cursing at that infernal contraption to grind up the fucking ingredients already as you scrape, scrape, scrape away trying to get everything into contact with the blade, and then still end up with pesto that’s too chunky. Not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything.

All right, let’s get started.

1. Pick off the basil leaves and begin putting them in the food processor. Don’t neglect the tiniest leaves – they’re the most flavorful! Discard any yellow or brown spots. Do this in batches – add the leaves until the processor is mostly full, tamp them down with a spatula or wooden spoon, and pulse until you’ve got enough room to add more basil. Repeat until all your basil has been added. After each blending, scrape the sides of the processor with your spatula/spoon to make sure none of that sweet, sweet stuff gets neglected.

2. Add a couple of cloves of the garlic and nuts and pulse until it’s blended all up. If you’re using pine nuts, toasting them up until browned beforehand is highly recommended. If you’re using walnuts, give them a rough chop before adding them to the processor. Again, scrape the sides.

3. Grate out a whole heaping fuckton of cheese. I want a cheese mountain, people. Believe it or not, the cheese might be the most important ingredient here. One time I somehow forgot to add the cheese and when I first tasted what I thought was my finished product I quickly became mystified as to why it tasted so bland and crappy. Without the cheese, the pesto is nothing. So dump that cheese mountain in there and blend it up. Scrape the sides.

4. At this point, the pesto should be a dark forest green color. It looks nice, but it means it’s not done yet. So break out your olive oil and start adding it a couple of glugs at a time, in between blending (if you haven’t already, you can stop pulsing and let ‘er rip). Continue adding the oil and blending, scraping the sides in between, until the pesto is light green and nice and moist.

5. Now that your pesto is done, boil some water in a large pot (don’t do it Olive Garden style – salt that shit). Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions. Save half a cup or so of the pasta water, then drain.

6. While that’s going on, chop up your veggies and heat some olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. I don’t have to explain what happens next, do I? You know how to sauté vegetables. You’re not stupid. Add the onion first and cook until it’s translucent, then add a couple more cloves of garlic and your veggies and cook ‘em up, stirring occasionally, until they’re nice and tender. See? Easy. You got this.

7. If you’re using seafood (please do, unless you’re one of those people who doesn’t like seafood, in which case, what the hell is wrong with you), make sure you peel the shrimp/cut out the squid’s cartilage before you cook, unless you want to choke and die for some reason. About two minutes before the veggies are done, add the seafood to the skillet and continue sautéing until cooked through. Remove the skillet from the heat.

8. At last, feasting time is nearly upon us. Place the empty pasta pot on a burner over super low heat and dump all the pesto in there, along with the saved pasta water. Mix it around. Then add the pasta and stir to coat. Finally, add the veggies and/or seafood and stir to coat again. You may be tempted to devour the entire pot at this point, but contain yourself and leave the pasta to sit over the heat for a quick minute or two while you grate some extra cheese for serving, just to make sure the pesto has time to seep into the other ingredients. Turn off the heat.

9. EAT. Don’t be shy. Two or three heaping bowls at a time is a normal serving for something this freaking tasty.

One Comment

  1. The Diva

    June 4, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    Best pesto ever!!!!!!


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