Authentic Basil Pesto Genovese

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The obvious perk of having a green-thumbed husband is that, wherever I turn in the garden, I am bound to stumble upon edible goodies. Even in the busiest time, when the work load and the chores of domestic life take over, I can always count of fresh, perfumed herbs. Whatever is in season, it is likely to be growing in our sunny backyard, ready for me to pick and transform into a nutritious meal. Turning emerald-green basil leaves into Italy’s most loved pasta condiment is an easy enough task, the ingredients are few and easy to gather, the method quite straight-forward; the only extra bit that will make the difference between a pesto and a really good pesto, is love and commitment to authenticity. Pesto is an ancient Ligurian dish and its name encapsulates the method used to produced it: in the Genoese dialect the word pestâ (Italian: pestare) means to poundto crush, in reference to the original method of preparation, with marble mortar and pestle, however it is acceptable these days to use a food processor. What has remained unaltered in times is the addition of boiled potato cubes and green beans, which elevate this humble dish to a delectable, substantial meal. Traditionally it is served with straccetti, trofie or trenette pasta, typical from the Liguria region of Italy, however spaghetti marries equally well with pesto and it is by far my dad’s desert island meal.

Papa’, this is for you!

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

2 large bunches of basil, stalks trimmed

2 ice cubes (they will help preserve the vibrant green hue of the basil)

1 garlic clove, peeled (use more if you like it very pungent)

3/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

1/3 cup of pine nuts

1/4 cup of grated parmigiano

1/4 cup of freshly grated pecorino

sea salt to taste

1 medium potato, peeled and cut into small cubes

1 cup of green beans, trimmed and cut into three

320 gr  (11 oz) of dry spaghetti

HOW TO

1. If using a food processor: put the basil, garlic, nuts, cheese and ice cubes in the bowl of a food processor fitted with blades and blitz until smooth.  Slowly add in the oil in a stream and process with the rest of the ingredients until dense and well emulsified. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly.

2. If using a pestle and mortar, add basil, garlic pine nuts, ice cubes and a pinch of salt to the mortar. Start working with the pestle, pressing and rotating it until all the ingredients are nicely ground. Add the cheese and mix well. Slowly pour in the oil and mix well until well emulsified. Taste for salt and adjust accordingly. Discard the ice cubes that have not melted into the pesto. Set aside in the fridge until ready to use (it will keep, well covered in oil, for over a week).

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3. Bring a large pot of slated water to the boil. Drop in your pasta along with the potato cubes. 4 minutes into cooking, add the beans. Cook your pasta and vegetables until nicely al dente. Drain, but be sure to reserve 3  or 4 tablespoon of pasta cooking liquor (aqua di cottura). Place the pasta, potato and beans onto a serving dish, pour over the pesto and mix well. If too dry, add a little of the reserved cooking water.

Serve piping hot!

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Sugo d’agnello (Slow-cooked Lamb and Tomato Sauce)

My maternal Nonna wasn’t the most sophisticated cook. She would always make the same two or three dishes, but, to this day, my siblings, my cousins and I are  yet to taste anything as comforting and delicious as her sugo di pomodoro, polenta con salsiccia and sugo d’agnello. It was always fascinating to observe her in the kitchen, effortlessly turning everyday, humble ingredients into delightful feasts. She never once measured anything, her only tools were her hands and her eyes. And her exquisite taste buds! For your sake, I have attempted  to provide measurements, but feel free to adjust to your liking, the way Nonna always did.

INGREDIENTS, serves 4

4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 garlic cloves

2 small onion or French shallots, peeled and left whole

1/4  pepper (capiscum)

1 celery stick

1/2 cup of good red wine

1 table spoon of tomato paste (concentrate)

2 tins of good quality can tomatoes or home-made passata

1 rosemary or thyme sprig

a few origano leaves

500 gr (16 oz) of fresh tagliatelle or tagliolini

How to

1. Heat up the oil in a sauce pan; with the back of your knife, bash the garlic cloves in their skin and add them to the hot oil along with a few large chunks of yellow or red pepper (capsicum), the peeled French shallots (or onion), the celery stalk and rosemary sprigs.

2. When the vegetables have taken a bit a colour, brown a few large pieces of shoulder or shank of lamb. De-glaze the pan with a glass of red wine and cook on a high flame until the alcohol has eveporated.

3. Add the tinned tomatoes (home-made would be my Nonna’s preference, but feel free to use good quality tinned ones, like Mutti or Cirio). Turn the heat right down and cook slowly and covered with a mesh lid for 3 to 4 hours. After that time you can discard the garlic, the peppers and the celery stalks. Turn the heat up and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and white pepper, to your liking.

Serve generously with home-made tagliolini (pictured below) or any pasta you prefer.

Buon Appetito!

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Farfalle with Tiger Prawns, oven-roasted Breadcrumbs and Parsley

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A few days ago I took a trip to Sydney fish market. On my way back to the car I passed a stall overflowing with beautiful, fresh tiger prawns and, despite holding my 4 year-old boy’s hand, carrying a large male snapper in the other, and baby Miro in a sling, I couldn’t resist the temptation to grab some of those glistening creatures of the ocean. Although a bit tricky managing the boys, the bags and the apparent disappearance of my car keys, once I was home, the fish safely tucked in the fridge, the kids chucked over to their papà, it was all worthwhile.

Ingredients for 4 people

16 King Prawns, peeled, de-veined and cut into two or three

1 cup of breadcrumbs toasted in the oven for 10 minutes with 2 tablespoons of  Extra Virgin Olive oil and a small handful of chopped parsley leaves

350 gr (3/4 packet) of  Farfalle (bow-tie pasta) or Orecchiette

4 tablespoons of Extra-Virgin olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1/3 cup of parsley stalks, finely chopped

1 red chillie, thinly sliced

1/4 cup of dry white wine

salt flakes to taste

chillie oil to drizzle on top (optional)

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How to

1. Fill a large pot with salted water. While the water heats up, toast the breadcrumbs and set aside.  DSC_1061

2. Heat the Extra-virgin olive oil in a large, heavy-based pan, stir-fry garlic, parsley stalks and chillie over medium heat, being mindful not to burn the garlic or it will turn acrid. Pour in the wine, allow to bubble for a few minutes or until the alcohol has evaporated. Drop in the prawns and cook for 2-3 minutes or until 3-4 done. They will continue cooking once to toss them with the cooked pasta. Turn off the heat.

3. Boil the pasta until nicely Al Dente, turn the heat back on under the prawn sauce, strain the pasta straight into the prawn pan adding a little of the pasta cooking liquor (aqua di cottura) to help bind the sauce. Toss well, then turn off the heat and and serve dusted with toasted breadcrumbs, parsley leaves and a drizzle of chillie oil, if liked (a grating of lemon zest is a great alternative to the kick of chillie)

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Don’t expect to make any conversation at the dinner table. The only sound you will hear is that of jaws chomping…

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