When spring is in full swing, pesto isn’t far behind. The first of the whispering green leaves of young basil waft their redolent peppery scent across the greengrocers’ shops all over Sydney. A trip to Fratelli Fresh always puts me in the mood to cook Italian food. It presents the endless possibilities and ingredients for dabbling in fresh, simple cuisine. Every time I visit I come away inspired and ready to piece together tables full of gorgeous flavours. The entry floor food section offered up the freshest quivering basil – two bunches to turn into the electric green delights of pesto. I bypassed the carcioffini (baby globe artichokes) with a wistful smile embedded in the memories of eating them lightly crumbed and deep fried whole the last time I was in Florence. Upstairs for a packet of robust spaghetti from the bronze dyes of Guiseppe Cocco and the unfiltered cold pressed Il Casolare olive oil whose pepperyness matches the basil’s anise edge perfectly and whose slight cloudiness is reminiscent of a springtime morning fog. While not immediately on the menu, I couldn’t resist the Florentine Filli Chiaverini crushed tomatoes – must be those globe artichokes messing with my mind – and the teeny weeny Loison panettone – sooo cute and a sure sign Christmas is coming. They can wait. I can see those tomatoes wrapped around fluffy gnocchi, and a crisp toasted breakfast slice of panettone with honey and ricotta somewhere in my future. But back home and to the pesto at hand.
While the pine nuts (about 70 or so grams) are lightly toasting in a dry pan, flicked occasionally to make sure they don’t burn but tan up like they’ve been hanging around the cinque terra for holidays, I pick off those delicate leaves ready to process. Half a dozen fat cloves of garlic go into the processor (sorry – not traditional I know, but my mortar and pestle aren’t big enough hold the load) with a few pinches of salt. Toss in the basil, pine nuts and olive oil enough to emulsify and whako – my apartment smells like a Ligurian trattoria, complete with cat lolling in the sun.
A load of pasta in fast boiling water adds some urgency to proceedings. Out of the processor with the pesto and stir in about 80 grams of freshly grated parmesan, taste – ouch! Garlic and basil unblock my nose as the heady combo hits the taste buds. I always have thought that pesto is a kind of hand-to-hand combat pasta sauce. No need for anymore of anything. Just wait for the pasta. I rarely time pasta, I pick bits out and taste them til they only just give in. Then a few good spoonfuls of pesto into a bowl and pick out the pasta from the pot with tongs, leaving the water still dripping, and load it into the pesto, tossing it around. A spoon or so of extra pasta water makes sure the green lightning slips its way round every strand, embracing it and tumbling over the plate.
To accompany, a crisp NZ sauvignon blanc, the pepperyness and grassyness perfectly complemented.
Sitting down watching a spring shower outside, that ozone smell of daytime rain, drunk on the king of flavours combined in garlic, basil and oil floating around on a hand painted Florentine plate. Spring has definitely arrived and summer is not far away.