Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Pesto all'Argentina

Ciao, tutti,

I've been meaning to post this for a few days, but I keep forgetting. I made a pesto last weekend that was quite good. A little background, however, is necessary.

The sauce comes from Genoa, in northern Italy and is properly called pesto alla genovese, which , as nearly everyone is aware, is made of basil, pine nuts, and garlic (often with a hard Italian cheese, too) minced together and suspended in olive oil. One usually finds these ingredients combined in a food processor in the States, forming a paste which is then spread on bread or mixed in with pasta. However, pesto properly is hand-minced, so the ingredients are coarser and the texture is much more pleasant on the tongue to my mind. I wanted to make a hand-minced pesto for a number of reasons, but this superb mouthfeel was one big motivation.

On to the recipe. It's a little known fact, but Argentina has strong ethnic ties to Italy. In Buenos Aires, much of the local culture is inherited directly from Italy, and Italian food is common in the River Plate region. Always wanting to be odd, I got my recipe for pesto from Argentina and it has a few interesting differences from the usual American recipe. First off, besides the basil, the recipe calls for an equal amount of parsley (Italian or leaf, I know not). Since Argentina is not known for its olive trees, corn oil is called for, which gives it a decidedly American feel. Finally, and this is the change I find most interesting, walnuts are subsituted for the pine nuts, which changes the flavor of the sauce in amazing ways.

Unfortunately for me, I have no basil, and I don't like corn oil when I have a very good olive oil on hand, so my final recipe looked something like this hybridization: A lot of parsley, minced with three cloves of garlic, mixed with a handful of walnuts chopped coarsely, and then I poured on enough olive oil to bring it all together. I then let it sit for a number of hours so the flavors could meld. It was served with angel hair pasta, thus making capellini con pesto all'argentina.

The first thing I have to say is that one should never make pesto without basil. The core of the dish is that wonderful aromatic and, without it, I may as well have been eating iceberg lettuce covered with a Miracle Whip ranch. That's of course a bit extreme, but parsley alone was just too much.

Secondly, it takes a long time to mince by hand. I'm rather proud of this, but I had to hold my knife so long that I developed a blister at the base of my index finger.

Third, I needed to add more oil. The sauce was not moist enough.

Finally, it paired perfectly with the angel hair. Pesto is such a dainty sauce that it needs a dainty pasta to go with it. Or, one could replace "dainty" with "delicate." However, I was still hungry after eating my rather hefty portion and if I had to do it all again, I think I'd make more pasta. Or maybe serve some soup with it. Still, it was a perfect dish for a late spring day.