trofie al pesto

One of the best and most enchanting meals I ever ate was also one of the most simple: a small portion of pasta tossed in fresh Genovese pesto, followed by a melt-in-my-mouth bowl of tiramisu. As with most things in life, the simplest foods are frequently the ones that leave the biggest impact, and this particular meal had all the right ingredients for success: fresh products, knowledgeable preparation, and a picture-perfect setting on the beautiful sloped streets of Cinque Terre, a cluster of five small fishing villages on the sun soaked Ligurian Sea. Of all the delightful experiences my friend Lindsey and I had during a two-month backpacking trip through Western Europe, the trofie al pesto still remains one of the most memorable. My guess is that we sipped on glasses of summery pinot grigio, but I can’t say for sure, given that I was so enraptured with the crux of our meal. As I sit here and write this, I find myself enraptured still.

I relived the feelings that accompanied that meal about a year later while dining with my mom in an Italian restaurant outside of Chicago. We had struck up a conversation with the owner, an emigrant from northern Italy, and as I reminisced about the beauty of my meal in Cinque Terre, he politely passed me a pen and began to dictate instructions. In an emotional flurry, I scrawled a list of ingredients on the paper tablecloth beside my plate, but, of course, he couldn’t offer me any exact measurements, only the order of incorporation.

For years I held onto that scrap of paper, with big plans of recreating my pesto experience, though timidity long had its grip on me. I even went so far as to search out the particular kind of pasta used especially for pesto, the one that dazzled me so that first trip to Italy. I got my hands on a bag of it, known as le trofie, at an olive oil specialty shop on Balboa Island, though to no timely avail. I simply toted it around with me for almost two years before ever working up the guts to do anything with it.

What’s the big deal? you must surely be wondering. Why this pesto pedestal? Sadly enough, I can’t say I have an answer for you. Only that maybe my hopes were so high as to be surely disappointed, or so I thought- until one brave afternoon last week.

It was nothing short of the stuff that dreams are made of. With my ripped corner of paper tablecloth in hand, I set out to make my very first homemade pesto. A quick internet search helped me get a feel for the quantity of each ingredient, and though each recipe varied slightly as to the particular kind of cheese (I was set on using only pecorino) or type of nuts (pine nuts for me, please), I did find commonality in the ratio of basil to fresh garlic cloves (one clove of garlic to one cup basil leaves) and an inclination towards the modern food processor rather than the ol’ mortar and pestle.

With a whir of the Cuisinart, the finished product was at hand in a matter of minutes and turned out to be even more satisfying than I could have imagined. I beamed at my mom who laughed at my reluctant history and was happy to applaud my delicious effort. We supped that evening on trofie al pesto, communally content and confident that my eight year pesto fast was over at last.

Basil Pesto (makes enough for about 8 servings of pasta)

4 oz. basil, stems removed
3 whole cloves garlic
½ cup pine nuts
1 cup finely grated pecorino romano or pecorino toscano
¾ cup olive oil
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

First, process the basil and garlic cloves. Add the pecorino and pine nuts, making sure the mixture is evenly blended before pouring in the olive oil, salt and pepper. Using a rubber spatula, remove pesto from food processor and stir into freshly cooked al dente pasta. Top with additional pecorino, if desired, and serve. Buon appetito!

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