Presto Pasta al Pesto!

Pesto Pasta

My sister, Grace, loves cooking gadgets. She owns the most impressive collection of kitchen gadgets on the East coast. I also admire the fact that she is so knowledgeable about how they work and uses every single one of them all the time. None of them collect dust. She lives in New England and I live in Florida, and we usually share a wonderful chat together on our cell phones as we both drive home from work on Thursday afternoons. Yesterday, she excitedly told me all about the newest gadget in her life, that is, the Cuisinart Mini Prep Food Processor. She said she had a copious crop of basil growing in her garden and made a batch of pesto using the new processor. She said it came out just delicious and the performance of the mini prep was more than she expected. Grace said she loved the color too, black chrome with a black wire. White appliance wires can look so dingy after awhile. I hung up with her and could not stop thinking about pesto!

Just the day before my sister’s call, I chatted with my dear and wonderful friend, Agi. She moved into her new home and planted purple basil. It is quite beautiful and has suprisingly it has given her a prolific crop. She asked me for my pesto recipe. It seems like everyone has pesto on their mind this week.

Both Grace and Agi have inspired me to share with you my pesto recipe that I have made for over thirty years. Pesto originated in Genoa and the classic way to prepare it is with a mortar and pestle. Pesto literally means “pounded.” But of course, we are all to busy these days for such nonsense, so grab your blender or processor (or you may want to check out the new Cuisinart Mini Prep), and whirl up some delicious pesto to share with family and friends.

Fresh Basil Pesto

Ingredients

2 overflowing cups fresh basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup pine nuts (or some prefer walnuts, or use half and half)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Combine basil, garlic, salt and pepper in work bowl of processor and blend to fine paste, scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Add pine nuts and cheese and process until smooth. With machine running, pour olive oil through feed tube in slow steady stream and mix until almost smooth. If it is too thick, you can add a little bit more olive oil. If you choose to use a blender, put all ingredients into blender except olive oil and pulse chop until it almost paste, then with machine running pour olive oil into mixture through opening in blender top.

Boil your favorite pasta and reserve about a cup of cooking water. Mix your pasta with a lump of butter before adding the pesto. Loosen up the pasta and pesto with some reserved pasta water.

We like this on Tinkyada fettucini with some freshly diced plum tomatoes sprinkled on top. Enjoy!

Pesto tip: When storing pesto in the refrigerator or freezer, add a film of olive oil about 1/8 inch thick to the top to prevent sauce from drying out. Mix it in when ready to use. Always bring chilled pesto to room temperature before serving.

Afterthought: When I used to lived up North, I remember hanging on to the skirts of summer’s fresh bounty. My back yard and every friend’s backyard as well as every farm stand would boast the huge bouquets of fragrant sweet basil. It is surely one of nature’s most precious gifts, and pesto is undoubtably one of the best ways to enjoy its goodness.

Summer’s End and Lady Paula

It is late August and the sun is already casting that certain nostalgic light. There is just something about this entrance into fall. Summer’s end and my heart recalls lovely Donna Paula.

In Italian, Donna Paula means “Lady Paula”. You pronounce Paula like Pow-a-la. I do not know why to this day, but she has left her imprint on my soul.

I remember meeting her when I was a child. She was a friend of my grandmother’s.
My mother always spoke very highly of her. My mother loved Lady Paula very much.
My mother spent summers with her away from her own mother.

Lady Paula was a typical looking older Italian woman. She was short and stout. Her hair was tied into a bun. She wore baggy cotton dresses. She had the biggest and most impressive vegetable garden that I have ever seen in my life. She lived in a small and simple house and the garden on the side of the house was almost as big as the house itself.

My Mom and Dad would take my sister and me to visit her. She would pluck fat, deep orange carrots out the earth, rinse them off under the outside spigot, and hand them to us to eat as if they were cotton candy. Indeed, they tasted as sweet!

We continued to visit her and she grew older and older. She lived alone. It was the summer that I turned 18 and I had just earned my driver’s license. I decided to visit her on my own. I knocked on her door. She opened it and looked right at me and asked who I was. She was losing her eyesight. I announced, ” It is Geraldin-a, Donna Paula, Grace’s daughter”. Her arms were strong as she embraced me at the door. She invited me in. She said she was about to begin making her dinner. On the counter was an opened box of spaghetti half full, a bottle of olive oil, and 1 unpeeled clove of garlic.

She told me that this was an easy dish. She said you could any vegetable. “Come-a with me”, she said with her endearing Italian accent. It was dusk on a sultry August day. I recall the rich smell of the earth that is so familiar as evening approaches. She grabbed two small zucchini off the vine. I was impressed with how well she moved through the garden and back up the 4-5 steps to the kitchen with her limited vision.

She put the pasta on to boil. She minced the garlic and simmered it in some olive oil.
She thinly sliced the zucchini fresh from its source. She quickly moved the zucchini through the garlic and oil. She poured this mixture over the pasta. Then she carefully sprinkled it with parmesan and just a dash of salt and pepper.

“Come-a join me. Mangia!” She stood in front of her stove holding the fragrant bowl of zucchini and pasta and smiled.

We sat together, in silence, eating our small feast. From her kitchen window outlined with crisp white curtains, I watched the beginnings of the sunset over the garden.

Lady Paula would not have been labeled as a beautiful woman by today’s standards, but to me, she was beyond beautiful. Lady Paula possessed the “simple” beauty of a radiant spirit.

To this day, whenever I begin to sauté garlic in olive oil, the aroma brings me back to that summer day in her kitchen. I see her gentle smile. I hear the love in her voice as she says to me, “Come-a. Sit down. Mangia!”.

Saucy! (Basic Delicious Tomato Sauce)

Saucy! (Basic Delicious Tomato Sauce)

I have been making this basic sauce for over twenty years. It is fast and delicious, and once it is made, you can do all kinds of recipe renditions with it. My husband, Wayne, loves this sauce. He affectionately calls it “Saucy!”. In fact, I don’t think that I have ever met another person in my walk on this planet who loves pasta and tomato sauce as much as he does! Amazingly, he is of Scotch and German descent. I am of Italian descent, and I don’t get half as excited. He loves garlic, also, and he admitted that his mother was Southern and did not cook with very much garlic. Well, I decided not to try to figure this out too much. I have a very appreciative audience for my cooking, and that is just fine with me. There is no greater compliment, I am sure you will agree, than when someone leaves a clean plate and made yummy noises throughout the journey. He is also very wonderful about eating gluten free pasta along with me. Every now and then, I boil two different pastas, but again, thankfully, Wayne is easy to please and adventurous when it comes to trying a new type of food.Simple Sauce

Please do pass up that jarred stuff, darling, and try this!

Ingredients:
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
¼ cup olive oil
2 Large cans crushed tomatoes (28 oz size)
(I prefer Muir Glen)
Large handful of fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly ground sea salt to taste

In large, heavy saucepan, sauté onions in olive oil over low heat until soft and transparent (about 5 minutes of cooking). Add garlic. Sauté another minute in sizzling onions and oil.

Whirl up crushed tomatoes one can at a time in blender. Leave it somewhat chunky. Pour over onion and garlic mixture in saucepan. Add basil, sugar, salt and pepper. Bring to a strong simmer for about 20 minutes to half an hour.

Some people like to add other herbs such as oregano and Italian flat leaf parsley. You can experiment with different herbs. We like just basil. It adds a certain sweetness to the sauce when left solo. You can also add a skosh more of olive oil, if you would like. It is all according to your taste.

Makes a large pot of sauce. You can have some for dinner and freeze the rest for another meal.

We enjoyed this sauce today over Tinkyada Rice Penne Pasta with freshly shaved parmigiana cheese. Enjoy!