Nothing spells comfort food more than a huge bowl of pasta with a homemade pesto sauce mixed through….. except for a Tuscan inspired pesto sauce!! Highly flavoured and perfumed by sweet smelling basil, this sauce consists of the traditional pesto ingredients, with the surprising addition of zucchini to provide just a slight hint of creaminess.
The family owned villa in Montespertoli, about 20 km from Florence.
I learnt how to make this particular pesto sauce during a 4 day cooking vacation at a family estate farmhouse in Tuscany, Italy. This stunning villa, also a working vineyard specialising in Chianti wine, is surrounded by rolling green hills and is located in the heart of the sleepy Tuscan town of Montespertoli.
The cooking classes were held in villa’s private kitchen and in what was originally the family’s wine cellar. A very hands on experience, the 4 hour lessons were led by home cooks, Simonetta and Sara, who had with years of experience between them. The food was not only typical of the region, but also honest, homely and unpretentious.
Preparation Time: 10 minutes Serves: 4 – 6
- 70 g (2 1/2 oz) basil leaves or roughly 2 bunches
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped roughly
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 30 g pinenuts
- 60 g (2 oz) parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 small piece of zucchini roughly 2cm (1 inch) long
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 -2 ice cubes (Note 1)
- Place all the ingredients, except the parmesan cheese in a blender or food processor. Alternatively, you can use some elbow grease and pound the ingredients with a large mortar and pestle.
- Blend the ingredients, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides. (Note 2)
- Tip into a bowl and stir through the parmesan. Have a little taste to see if it is seasoned enough for you.
- Place any left over pesto sauce in a clean jar, and pop in the freezer to be used at a later date.
- Ice-cubes seem strange things to add to a pesto sauce, but that’s exactly what Simonetta did, while she was blending the ingredients together. I am not sure about the reasoning, but l vaguely recall it had something to do with counteracting the heat generated from the blending process to prevent the basil from discolouring. Depending on how Tuscan my mood is, sometimes l add them, sometimes l don’t.
- How long you blend the ingredients will depend on how chunky you like your pesto. I tend to blend long enough to break down the basil leaves, and still have little chunky pieces of pinenuts visible.
Pesto used as a spread on crunchy bread and topped with bocconcini, tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion and cracked pepper.
Plump pillowy dumplings of soft dough gnocchi, coated with Tuscan pesto sauce. Perfect on an antipasto plate or as a simple starter.
Pesto is much more than something to be tossed through pasta. From breakfast to appetisers to main meals; there are more ways that you can use pesto than l could count. I’ll enjoy trying, though.