JULY 28 13 12:01 AM Those of us obsessed with eating have come to realize we don need a loaded palette to create dishes with nuanced, satisfying full flavours. Simplicity is often best, a truth I have discovered with creeping age, it being the antithesis of what sometimes passes for clever cookery by those who manipulate stuff just because they can.
These days, a few planter pots of lush leafy basil at the front of my house beckon to be used in a way that defines as much by what it is not as by what it is.
Among the best and most simple examples is a seasonal caprese salad, or insalate caprese if you want to be all Italian about it, a heavenly albeit modest presentation of layered slices of pillowy buffalo mozzarella, sun ripened local tomatoes (that are coming into their best right about now), fragrant fresh basil leaves drizzled with good peppery Tuscan extra virgin olive oil and, finally, a kiss of flaky sea salt as a foil for taste and texture. That it, a memorable starter antipasto, for the purists sublime in its simplicity, minus any extraneous annoyances like, say, balsamic vinegar, which is too often used as a crutch in a ward of lame cuisine.
I count pesto among the season most welcome treats made only with fresh basil leaves (discard all stems, which ruin it with unpleasant woody pith), nuts, grated parmesan, olive oil, garlic of course, and sea salt to kick start the whole. To serve, mix the pesto with a little water used to boil the pasta and make a slurry, toss with al dente farfalle or penne, and that about it. The recipe for my latest batch appears below, but in truth the proportions are approximate and needn be rigidly enforced.
Traditional pesto would normally include pine nuts, but some years ago I experimented with alternatives after the price for even lesser quality Chinese nuts soared to a ridiculous extreme. I settled instead on unsalted California almonds, which are much easier on the wallet and confer a slightly nutty, pleasant taste with more interesting texture. I read that others have opted for cashews or even walnuts as a substitute but walnuts are somewhat oily, they tend to go rancid more quickly and, to my palate anyway, carry a more assertive character I rather do without. Now that almonds are my go to favourite, I would not choose anything else.
At home I make about four cups at a time, usually two batches in late summer, which I spoon into plastic ice cube trays and freeze. Package the finished cubes in freezer bags so you can quickly grab one or two without nike air max forethought to enjoy a taste of summer through an entire dreary winter. I doesn get much better.
As pesto is so gosh darned simple and satisfying, the wonder is why most people don make it at home. Why, it was only yesterday I spotted bundles of fresh and generous leafy basil selling at the Parkdale Market for $3, so there is really no good excuse.
Yes, you can buy pre made pesto in jars at any supermarket, but more often than not the flavour (and colour) of the factory made sauce lacks vibrancy and freshness.
But there is one excellent exception I found recently called Villa Sauces sold in resealable plastic bags at La Bottega in the ByWard Market, Nicastro Italian Foods on Merivale Road, local Farm Boy outlets, and some Metro stores, as my friend Vivian Villa in Toronto has resumed production of pestos she enjoyed at home as a little girl growing up in northern Italy. Previously she sold her sauces in little plastic tubs for a decade until 2003, when she stopped after her distributor was bought out by a con nike air max glomerate. For a few years she worked in Chicago developing pizza sauces and meat pro nike air max ducts for a major United States company.
Now back in Toronto, Vivian employs four people in a small 4,000 square foot facility in Scarborough. I caught up with her the other day as she served small samples tossed with freshly cooked pasta at Farm Boy at the Train Yards store, and the next day at the store on Merivale Road, where customers lined up for a taste and, more often than not, went away with a pouch or two in their grocery carts.
And why not? I assure you, if you not inclined to wash a few leaves at home then Villa sauce is a darned good alternative.
She makes five sauces, each in a 175 gram package that retails for about $6 that the classic basil pesto, baby arugula, roasted pepper with chives, sun dried tomato and basil, and her latest lemon with herbs and garlic that is exquisitely bright on the tongue and ridiculously addictive.
actually manufacturing the sauces myself using all natural ingredients, Vivian says, with characteristic enthusiasm.
authentic pesto Genovese is the sauce I grew up with in Italy made with fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan and romano cheese, butter and pine nuts. I don add salt because it already in the cheese, and they a nike air max ll gluten free. has lately been busy every weekend doing taste demonstrations across southern Ontario. Or, as she puts it, been burning the candle at both ends making lots of product and doing demonstrations. I expect to be in some Loblaws stores in early September.
really love the sauce, and they buy it once they taste it it just getting them to try it, she says.
once they do, they stick with it. Rinse basil leaves well in a sink of cold water to remove any sand or grit, then drain in colander. Place half in bowl of food processor, process slightly to reduce volume, then add remaining basil along with almonds, parmesan, garlic.
2. With motor running, drizzle in olive oil through feeder chute to achieve thick sauce consistency, adding more olive oil only as needed. Pure well, about 2 minutes, add salt, then taste. Add more salt if desired but go easy.
3. Either spoon pesto into plastic ice cube trays to freeze, then package cubes in resealable plastic bag to use later when needed. Or, spoon into small disposable plastic tubs and freeze. If not freezing, cover pesto with a very thin film of olive oil to prevent discolouring, and refrigerate up to 3 days. To use, toss thawed pesto as desired with a little pasta boiling water to make a syrup thick slurry, then toss with cooked pasta and serve immediately.