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In each of our lives, there is always some food that is extra special to us for purely sentimental reasons. For me, born as I was in Liguria, a coastal region of north-western Italy that borders the Mediterranean Sea, it is pesto (which explains the very name of this “Pestoblog”)
AUTHENTIC pesto is a creamy sauce that is “crushed” (the literal translation of pesto) in a mortar with a wooden pestle, using ingredients such as basil, garlic, pine nuts, grated cheese and extra virgin olive oil. The better the quality of ingredients, the better the end result.
First the basil (Ocimum basilicum), which grows on the hills near Genoa. Next, the clear and smooth extra virgin olive oil of the region. To this is added garlic from Vessalico (a place not far from the town of Imperia in Liguria) and pine nuts from coastal pine groves. Now come the cheeses: Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino “Fiore Sardo”.
The preparation technique in a marble mortar with a wooden pestle is also critical. Because AUTHENTIC pesto is based not just on any old recipe, but more on an old technique, which still yields unparalleled results till date. Working on a mortar, physically, with marble and wood (and sweat) is a bit like stepping back in time, and ending up with a “machine” from antiquity that survived the advent of technology.
You should start by removing the basil leaves from their stalk and cleaning them with a cloth. Make sure not to wash or crush them, otherwise the essential oils in the veins will escape too early, thereby oxidizing the colour (which will be darker) and aroma (which will become more herbal).
Start by crushing garlic in the mortar with a pinch of coarse salt. Once it turns creamy, add a few basil leaves and some more grains of coarse salt (this helps in crushing the fibres and retaining the colour of the basil).
Next, pop in the pine nuts, which will receive the same fate as the other ingredients. Now it is the turn of the cheeses, Parmigiano first, then the Pecorino. They will make the sauce creamier. Finally, you should incorporate the olive oil very slowly.
The fragrance and taste of the end result has nothing in common with the pesto sold in the stores, trust me!
Since I live in Canada, sadly I don’t have access to the raw material, especially basil, which can’t be transported; this means I have to settle for a faux pesto that I prepare in my food processor 🙁 .
So you can imagine how thrilled I was when some dear true-blue “Ligurian” friends who were visiting Montreal gifted me with five small jars of super-fresh “Pesto Parodi”, directly from Genoa. And not just any old pesto, because this one bears the name of Luciana Parodi, who was awarded the title of “World Champion of Pesto al Mortaio” at the first Genoa Pesto World Championship with a mortar in 2007.
Every 2 years, in the beautiful Hall of Palazzo Ducale in Genoa, a hundred competitors compete to prepare the best Pesto with a mortar. These competitors are selected in elimination contests that the Palatifini Association organizes around the world (New York, Buenos Aires, Moscow, Rio de Janeiro…) and in several Italian cities (Rome, Milan, Florence…).
It is a huge event, but not a trade fair because the audience does not get to taste anything and nothing is sold to it either, a moment of pride for all those taking part and those attending the event. The winner gets a Pestle in wood and gold, and more importantly, glory…
The fifth edition of this challenge will be held on Saturday March 29, 2014.
While waiting to go to Genoa to enjoy the best pesto in the world, why not try out our recipe for Pesto Sauce.