Making a Pesto of Myself

Way back in 2001, Bill and I traveled to Italy with my sister and her then- twentysomething daughter. We had a really wonderful time, visiting Rome and the Tuscany area. We spent a couple of days in one of my favorite spots on earth, the Cinque Terre. While I have been back to Italy several times since, that was my first time to see the Mediterranean Sea.

The Cinque Terre are five small towns sitting on the side of a hill overlooking the Mediterranean. The villages are lovely, with pastel houses and colorful boats tied up along the shoreline. It really is probably the most beautiful place I have had the good luck to visit. The climate is warm and sunny, and all of the houses and restaurants have window boxes bursting with geraniums and fragrant basil.

The first night when we went to the café for dinner, we noticed that many of the diners were eating spaghetti with a green sauce that I knew to be pesto. At that time, however, I had never eaten it and really didn’t know how it was made. We just knew that we kept seeing this bright green sauce, and we all commented that it didn’t look good to us. “It’s so green!” we all exclaimed as we ate our pasta with some kind of seafood.

One of the most interesting things about the Cinque Terre is that there are no roads connecting these five villages. The only means of getting from one town to the next is by boat, train, or on foot. There is a footpath that connects all five of the little towns. So the next day, the four of us set off from the first village, determined to make it to all five by the end of the day. Which we did. Yay for us.

What a walk. The path varies in width, sometimes being wide enough for two to walk, sometimes being nothing more than a narrow little path set on the very edge of the hill. One false move and you seriously could tumble into the sea. The view is absolutely spectacular. The Med is as blue as the Crayola crayon called Azure, and so is the sky, or at least it was that day. Vineyards climb up the sides of the hills, grapes somehow growing in that rocky soil.

It was a very hot day, and though we had brought water, we were all getting extremely tired and warm. We came around the corner and, like a gift from God, there was a farmer who had set up a table and chair from which he was selling his homemade vin santo wine. Icy cold, sweet white wine. Well, just like the boy scouts, Bill and I are always prepared. In our little fanny packs we carried four plastic wine glasses in case we needed sustenance after an afternoon of sightseeing and wanted to buy a bottle of wine. We paid the farmer for a small bottle of vin santo and again set off, figuring we would find a wide spot in the road where we could stop and sip a cold glass of vino. We went around the corner, and lo, and behold, there was a picnic table overlooking the ocean. Wow. That’s a memory I will never forget.

Fortified with our wine, we completed the walk sometime midafternoon, and landed back in Vernazza, one of the little villages. We all laid down, completely spent, in some cool grass, and realized that we were very hungry. What did we want to eat, we asked each other. Funny enough, we all agreed we wanted to try spaghetti with pesto. Somehow after all of that clean air and hard work, the freshness of a basil sauce seemed the perfect thing. We went back to that same café and each of us ordered a plate of spaghetti with pesto. It changed our lives!

I use pesto as a sauce for pasta, but also as a condiment for other things. Last night I made tilapia, which I topped with parmesan cheese and broiled for 10 min. I put it on our plates and covered it with pesto. Yum.

Basil Pesto
Courtesy Giada Di Laurentis

Ingredients
1 clove garlic
2 c. fresh basil leaves
¼ c. toasted pine nuts
Salt and pepper
½ c. extra virgin olive oil
½ c. parmagiano reggiano

Process
In a food processor, mix together the garlic, basil, pine nuts, salt and pepper until finely chopped. With processor still running, slowly pour in olive oil. Transfer to a bowl, and add the cheese.

Nana’s Note: Since my life was changed, I always have pesto in my freezer. Each year I grow basil in my garden, and at the end of the summer, I pick what’s left since it won’t live through our cold winters. I make a batch of basil pesto, put it into several ice cube trays, and freeze the yummy sauce. Once it is completely frozen, I wrap each pesto cube in plastic wrap, and then store them all in a bag in my freezer. When I need a quick dinner, I take out two cubes, let them thaw, and put them in a bowl over which I drop some kind of cooked pasta and mix. Boom. Dinner is ready!

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