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Trenette col Pesto, Trenette with Pesto Sauce

Trenette Al Pesto, With Potatoes and String Beans

Trenette Al Pesto, With Potatoes and String Beans

This is drawn from Slow Food’s collection of Ligurian restaurant and trattoria recipes; they in turn got it from Genova’s Trattoria da Maria, and before we go further I should say Trenette are similar to linguine, but a bit thinner — they look like flattened spaghetti.

Returning to the introduction, though the authors say that the practice of cooking vegetables and pasta together arose in the western part of Liguria and spread throughout the region, it also developed in other parts of Italy. Puglia’s orecchiette coi broccoletti come to mind.

To prepare this dish you will need, first of all, Pesto Sauce; while you can buy it ready made, it is not difficult to make at home and a good home-made pesto sauce is generally better than store-bought. We will therefore begin by making pesto sauce:

  • 45 leaves freshly picked basil (about a packed cup)
  • 1/4 cup grated aged pecorino (you will want Sardinian or Tuscan pecorino here, not pecorino romano, which is too sharp. If you cannot find Tuscan pecorino, increase the Parmigiano to 1 cup)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2/3 cup the best olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (technically optional though almost everybody includes them)
  • 1/3 cup walnut meats (optional)
Pesto Alla Genovese in an Italian Market

Pesto Alla Genovese in an Italian Market

If you have a marble mortar and wish to use it (purists say neither brass nor wood mortars will work), put the salt, garlic, nutmeats and basil in it and grind the mixture, firmly crushing the ingredients against the sides of the mortar, rather than striking sharp blows with the pestle. When the mixture is ground, add the cheese, a bit at a time, continuing to grind, and when it is all worked in, add the oil in a slow stream, stirring with a wooden spatula. The resulting pesto should be smooth and creamy.

If you are using a food processor instead, chop the garlic, basil, nutmeats, and salt, being careful not to let the mixture liquefy, then transfer it to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese and the oil.

We now have the sauce. It will be very good simply over the pasta shape you most prefer, but I find the Ligurian custom of adding vegetables to the pot tremendously satisfying:

  • 3/4 pound dried trenette (or, if you prefer, another pasta; for example, whole wheat pasta works very well with pesto sauce)
  • 1/4 pound tender string beans
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup pesto sauce
  • More grated Parmigiano for dusting

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. While it’s heating, peel and dice the potatoes, and wash and cut the string beans in two. When the water comes to a boil add the vegetables and cook until almost done, about 10 minutes. Add the pasta (trenette cook in 3-5 minutes — if you’re using spaghetti instead, which take 10-12 minutes, add them to the water that much sooner), and when it is still slightly al dente transfer the mixture to a bowl. Stir in the pesto, which you will have diluted with a tablespoon or two of pasta water, dust with the grated Parmigiano, and serve. The wine? The bitter sea tang of a good Vermentino would offset the garlic perfectly.

Variation:

You can also make trenette coi fagiolini, trenette with string beans, by following the instructions given above but increasing the pasta to 1 1/4 pounds and the string beans to 3/4 pound, and omitting the potato (if you decide to include it, reduce the string beans by a proportionate amount). In this case use about 1/3 cup of pesto sauce (diluted with a tablespoon or two of the pasta water), and dust the pasta with abundant freshly grated Parmigiano before serving. This would work nicely with a zesty, light red wine, for example Rossese di Dolceacqua or Valpolicella Classico.

Pasta Primavera (with Zucchini this time), Followed by Scaloppine Primavera

Primavera sauce is incredibly variable; some people like some vegetables, and some vegetables do better in one vegetable patch as opposed to another. Thus no two recipes are alike, though they all do share the freshness of spring. This sauce will work equally well over pasta and over scaloppini, and preparing a tasty meal with it will take minutes. To serve four,

For the first course:

  • 1 pound (500 g) baby zucchini
  • 2 ribs from the heart of a celery plant
  • 2 small carrots
  • A scallion
  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 5 basil leaves, shredded
  • A small bunch parsley, minced
  • A pinch of shredded hot pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 12 ounces (320 g) spaghetti

For the second course:

  • 1 pound (500 g) veal scallops
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt to taste

Wash the zucchini, trim their tips, quarter them lengthwise and dice them. Finely slice the scallion. Wash the celery, peel the carrot, and dice both.

Heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a pot, flavor it with a healthy pinch of red pepper flakes, and after a second add the scallion, carrot and celery; cook, stirring, over a medium flame for about 4 minutes, and then add the zucchini. Mix well, and then add the tomato sauce and the milk. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes. Check seasoning, and raise the flame if need be to thicken the sauce. Once it is the proper consistency, turn off the flame and stir in the parsley and basil.

In the meantime, bring pasta water to a boil, salt it, and cook the pasta; when it’s done drain it and season it with half of the sauce.

While the pasta water is heating and the sauce is simmering, heat a quarter cup of olive oil in a skillet broad enough to contain all the scallops in a single layer and cook them over a brisk flame, turning them once (figure 2-3 minutes per side at the most). Salt them lightly, transfer them to a serving dish, spoon the remaining sauce over them, and keep them warm. Serve them with a tossed salad and crusty bread. The wine? A Chianti d’Annata would be nice, as would a Dolcetto.

Pasta Primavera followed by Fried Mozzarella

Pasta alla Primavera, which Italians often call greengrocer’s pasta (pasta all’ortolano) is extremely refreshing and very nice in the summer months. It’s also quite good over fried mozzarella, which is much lighter than you might think. In this case, if you want to enjoy everything at once, you’ll have to centrifuge your sliced mozzarella briefly, or slice it and leave it to drain in a strainer in the fridge for several hours.

To serve 4 you’ll need:

For the first course:

  • 2 meaty bell peppers of the color you prefer.
  • A large white onion
  • A clove of garlic, finely sliced
  • A salted anchovy, rinsed, boned, and diced
  • 2/3 pound (300 g) broccoli florets, broken up
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 12 ounces (320 g) mezze maniche or ziti
  • Freshly grated pecorino romano

For the second course:

  • 6 small (1 1/2 inch, or 4 cm diameter) mozzarella balls
  • An egg, lightly beaten
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Oil for frying
  • Party sticks

Begin by slicing your mozzarella balls in half and setting them to drain in a strainer for 2 hours. If you don’t have 2 hours, use a salad centrifuge, giving the pieces a quick spin, turning them, and spinning them again. In either case, dredge the slices in the beaten egg, then in the breadcrumbs, put them on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, and chill them in the freezer for a half hour.

In the meantime, set pasta water to boil.

Stem, seed, and rib the peppers and cut them into strips that will lie flat. Run them under the broiler, skin side up, until the skins have blistered; you may have to turn the strips to blister the skins evenly. When the skins have blistered and blackened, put the strips in a bowl and cover it to let the steam generated by the cooking further loosen the skins. After a few minutes remove the skins, running the strips under warm water to rinse them clean, pat them dry, and dice them.

Peel the onion, slice it finely, and sauté it with the garlic in the olive oil; when it’s translucent add the peppers and the anchovy and simmer over a low flame for about 15 minutes. By this time the pasta water should be boiling; salt it and blanch the broccoli florets for 2-3 minutes; remove them with a slotted spoon and add them to the pepper sauce.

Continue simmering the sauce while you cook the pasta, and set the oil in your deep fryer to heating. When the pasta is al dente, drain it, and return it to the pot with about half the sauce; cook, stirring, over high heat for a minute and serve the sauced pasta with grated pecorino romano on the side.

When it comes time to clear the pasta bowls from the table, fry the mozzarella disks for about a minute in hot oil. Arrange them on a serving dish, stick a party stick into each, and distribute the remaining sauce over them. Serve with a tossed salad, crusty bread, and a brisk white wine, for example Gavi.

Eliche o Fusilli Alla Primavera, Twists or Corkscrews Primavera

This is a recipe devised by Caròla Francesconi, the late doyenne of Neapolin cooking, using the proportions given her by Monzù Gerardo Modugno.

To serve 6:

  • Vegetable broth
  • 4 1/2 pounds (2 k) asparagus
  • 6 artichokes
  • 10 ounces (250 g) freshly shelled peas
  • 1/4 cup (50 g) unsalted butter
  • 1/3 cup (100 ml) olive oil
  • A small onion, sliced
  • 2 ounces (50 g) pancetta, shredded
  • 4 eggs
  • A sprinkling of white wine
  • Basil and parsley
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano
  • 1 1/3 pounds (600 g) short fusilli or corkscrews
  • Salt & pepper to taste

Wash the asparagus spears well and boil them in batches, in a narrow high sided pot with their feet in the boiling water and their tips out of it. When the tips are fork tender remove the asparagus spears and set them aside. Remove what is tender of the remainders of the stalks and blend it to obtain a cream, which you shlould thin with a little vegetable broth should it be too thick.

Cook the peas in a little butter, seasoning them with the onion and pancetta.

Strip away the tough outer leaves from the artichokes, and then you get to the tender inner sections (see instructions if need be) cut them into thin wedges, discarding any hair you might find in the chokes, and boil them briefly in lightly salted water and lemon juice. Drain them when they’re still firm, and sauté them in a skillet with olive oil and butter, sprinkling a little wine over them. Add the artichoke tips and purée, and the peas with their seasonings. Check seasoning, then mince and add basil and parsley to taste. Sprinkle a little more vegetable broth over it all to keep the sauce from being too thick, and keep it warm by transferring it to a double boiler.

Beat the eggs with the Parmigiano and a pinch of salt.

Cook the pasta until it is al dente in lightly salted water, then drain it and return it to the pot. Pour in half of the vegetable sauce and the beaten eggs, turning everything over a moderate flame while the sauces thicken (a couple of minutes). Pour the fusilli out onto a heated serving dish, pour the remaining sauce over them, and serve.

Paste all’ Ortolano II, or Another Primavera Sauce

Primavera sauce, which Italians also call greengrocer’s sauce, is an astonishingly variable universe, as people adapt it to their personal taste and what is in season at the moment.

  • 1 1/2 pounds (675 g) fresh sauce tomatoes, sliced
  • 1/2 medium sized onion, minced
  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1 bunch parsley, minced
  • 1/2 cup pitted black olives, minced
  • 1 anchovy filet, washed and boned
  • Half a fresh hot red pepper, minced (optional)
  • 3 capers, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Grated Parmigiano
  • 1 pound (450 g) short tubular pasta such as penne or chiocciole (shells)

Peel and dice the eggplant; put the pieces in a colander, sprinkle them liberally with salt, set a weight on them, and let them sit for a half hour. Meanwhile, mince the onion, dice the pepper, and slice the tomatoes, keeping them separate. Then mince the parsley, anchovy, capers, olives, and red pepper (if you are using it).

Put the oil in a 2 quart pot, and while it’s heating rinse the salt off the eggplant and let it drain. Sauté the onion till it’s translucent, then add the eggplant. Cook for about five minutes, stirring to keep the mixture from sticking. Stir in the diced bell pepper and continue cooking a few minutes longer, then add the tomatoes and the parsley and olive mixture. Bring the sauce to a boil and then reduce the heat, simmering it gently for about twenty minutes. The sauce should be fairly thick.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in salted water; when it’s done, drain it, stir in the sauce, and serve with grated cheese.