From top left, clockwise: 1. Tagliatelle with ragù alla bolognese 2. Squid linguine with king prawns, cherry tomatoes and fresh parsley 3. Fusilli with tomatoes and fresh herbs 4. Casarecce with tuna in olive oil, cherry tomatoes, taggiasche olives and mozzarella di bufala
Italy is the land of pasta and we eat pasta a lot. Yes, we do eat carbs almost every day and we are proud of it. And no, we don’t count calories, because a) who cares? b) we can’t be bothered and c) there are more important things in life than calories.
Why Italians are so obsessed with pasta? I don’t think there is a right answer to that and I don’t even really know when and where exactly our passion and fussiness with pasta has begun. It’s a quintessential part of our cuisine, just like rice is for most of the South-East Asian countries and meat for the vast majority of Latin America. The reason why I genuinely love it so much to that extent that I am having pasta at least three times a week is its versatility … and the fact that it’s so easy to make, but yet incredibly filling! Besides as Sophia Loren has said ‘Everything you see, I owe to spaghetti‘. Thank you very much, we can now all start eating pasta every day and be proud of it.
My fondness for Italian food (ok, food in general) is so huge that, having lived abroad during most of my twenties, I have soon realized that there are thousands of misconceptions about Italian cuisine and dishes. There are so many that I don’t really know where to start: spaghetti with meat balls (?), carbonara made with cream (??), tiramisù with butter (???), adding boiling water to pasta (%$+!?!?), just to name a few.
I have thus decided to start THE DISCOVER PROJECT: starting with the hashtag #discoveritalianflavours, I will take you through a journey of exploring the real and authentic Italian cuisine, with its regional characteristics, talking about original recipes, local products and traditions. This will also involve a lesser known part of me, my Polish roots, which haven’t been properly emphasized so far. But this is all about to change and I am pretty sure you will find room for lots of new culinary inspirations with #discoverpolishflavours.
Our journey begins with his majesty, pesto.
Pesto alla genovese is a ‘sauce’ originated in Liguria and the first ever recipe can be found in an Italian culinary book from 1852, Vera Cuciniera Genovese by Emanuele Rossi. It is said that in order to make a proper pesto you should use only the following seven premium ingredients:
- Vessalico garlic
- Coarse sea salt
- Basil leaves grown in Pra’ DOP
- Extra virgin olive oil from Liguria DOP
- Italian pine nuts
- Parmigiano-Reggiano (aged 30 months)
- Fiore Sardo DOP
** Vessalico is a municipality in Liguria, near the city of Imperia. It is said that the garlic from that area has a more delicate taste and it’s easier to digest.
** DOP stands for the Italian Denominazione d’Origine Protetta. It’s a term used for EU laws that protect the name of a singular food product with a specific geographic origin.
Pesto is such an institution in Liguria to the extent that every year its capital, Genoa, hosts the Pesto Championships! Here is the link for all of you, my dear pesto lovers.
The Original Recipe
You will need a marble mortar and a wooden pestle.
First you start off by washing each basil leaves very carefully, making sure that they maintain their shape otherwise, if ‘over washed and squeezed’, they will turn black. Once this is done, let them dry completely.
Place the garlic bulb in the mortar (1 bulb per approximately 30 basil leaves) and start crushing them. Add the basil leaves bit by bit along with coarse sea salt and, with circular movement, keep on pounding all three ingredients.
Once the basil starts dripping a green liquid and it has reached an even and creamy consistency, add the pine nuts and both cheeses, previously grated. Keep on pounding the ingredients with circular movement, clockwise and anti clockwise.
At the very end, add the extra virgin olive oil.
Pesto should have a brilliant light green colour and a creamy consistency. All the ingredients should be evenly crushed without any of their flavours prevailing over the others.
As much as it would be amazing to recreate the authentic pesto, the lack of those specific ingredients calls for alternatives and below I am pleased to share my own version, which has been quite successful both at home and at work. Since I don’t have neither a mortar nor a pestle, yet, I had to use a food processor: if you are going to do the same, remember to place both blades and the bowl in the fridge and let it cool for at least one hour. By doing so, you will prevent the leaves from turning black once placed in the food processor.
Seasoning: a pinch of coarse sea salt
the 5 senses method:
- Wash the basil leaves with a damp cloth and make sure that each of them is completely dry. Set aside.
- Place the garlic bulb and a pinch of coarse sea salt in the food processor and blend for few seconds.
- Add half the quantity of basil leaves along with 1 tbsp of olive oil. Blend gently for few seconds, until a green liquid starts dripping from them. Repeat the same by adding a couple of more leaves, but make sure to leave some of them for later, and blend along with 1 tbsp of olive oil.
- Add the pine nuts and blend for few seconds until they are completely crushed and evenly coated with the other ingredients. Last but not the least, add both grated cheeses and blend until you reach a creamy green ‘sauce’. Add the remaining basil leaves with the last tbsp of olive oil and blend for few more seconds.
- Serve the fresh pesto with your favourite pasta. I went for trofie (a type of short and twisted pasta from Liguria).