Use this to dress dried pasta – linguine, trenette or trofie pasta are all traditional but spaghetti is a good substitute. This quantity will dress 250g of pasta serving 2 people.
¾ oz basil leaves
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp pine nuts
2 tbsps freshly grated parmesan cheese
olive oil (best)
Pesto is a traditional pasta sauce of the Liguria region of Italy. The basil would be ground with a pestle and mortar, using pine nuts to aid the process. Chopped garlic can be pounded at the same time, although I prefer my garlic cooked for just one minute in the pasta water before adding it to the mix. It is less pungent this way.
When you have a smooth paste of pine nuts, basil and garlic, begin adding olive oil in a steady stream, continuing to stir as you add the oil, so that it is amalgamated thoroughly. Grate parmesan and stir into the pesto at the end.
- In modern days, this sauce is often made in a food processor. It will not be as good, because the basil is cut rather than shredded, however, it is still much better than anything you will buy in a jar! If you do use a food processor add the grated Parmesan by hand at the end for a more texture.
- In Liguria the dish is served with green beans and new potatoes stirred into the pasta with the pesto. Add these to the cooking pasta at the appropriate points so that everything is cooked at the same time. Cut raw potato into small dice.
- Unused pesto can be stored, cover with a film of olive oil, in an airtight plastic pot. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week.
A classis Provençal vegetable stew best made a day in advance to give the flavours time to mingle. Although the flavours need to come together for the finished dish, the individual ingredients have different cooking requirements which should be respected as you assemble the whole dish.
2 large onions
2 red peppers
4 large cloves of garlic
1 large or 2 small aubergines
1lb of flavoursome tomatoes
2 courgettes (not too big)
Salt and pepper
Parsley, thyme and basil
Plenty of good olive oil
The onions and red peppers can stew slowly, together with the garlic, for much longer than the other vegetables, so start with these. Peel, halve and slice the onions and sweating them in olive oil. Finely slice the peppers and add these to the pan, then the crushed garlic. Cook slowly, stirring occasionally whilst you prepare the rest of the vegetables.
Although aubergines are not supposed to need salting before use nowadays, I still prefer to do this. It will remove a degree of bitterness as well as reducing the amount of oil the aubergines will absorb. Slice the aubergine, quite thickly, then quarter the slices. Place the quarters in a colander, sprinkling with salt after each layer. After about 10 minutes the salt will have drawn juices from the aubergine. Rinse under running water and then dry the pieces on a clean tea towel.
Heat some olive oil in a separate frying pan as you want to cook the aubergines over a much higher heat than the onions and peppers are receiving. When the oil is quite hot, lightly brown the aubergine on each side. You will probably need to do this in a couple of batches so as not to overcrowd the pan. Remove the cooked quarters and lay then on a piece of kitchen paper. When all of the aubergine is browned, add it to the main pan.
Now quarter the tomatoes and discard the pips. Dice the flesh and add to the main pan, together with some thyme, chopped parsley and a seasoning of salt and pepper. Taste as you season because the aubergines may have contributed some salt already.
Finally slice the courgettes and fry these in the frying pan with hot olive oil. Keep the heat high and remove the courgettes as soon as they are brown. Add them to the rest of the ratatouille when you are happy that the remaining vegetables, particularly the tomatoes, have cooked down sufficiently. If the courgettes go in too early they will cook to a mush. Cook everything together for no more than 10 minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary, and then leave to cool.
Ratatouille is good served at room temperature with more chopped parsley and torn basil added before serving. If you are keeping it overnight, these herbs can be added whilst the dish is lukewarm so that they can add their flavours overnight.
Basil Cream Sauce for Fish
Reduce half a pint of fish stock with 1 fluid ounce of sweet white wine until it is reduced by about three-quarters. Add 3 fl oz of double cream and boil rapidly until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon. Add torn basil and serve.
See also Roast Tomato and Basil Soup.