How To Make Pesto Like an Emmy-Winning Chef

Now that winter is fading, vibrant green pesto filled with fragrant basil is a great way to welcome the incoming spring weather. Originally from Italy, pesto has become global and is equally delicious with pasta, meat, and seafood. In modern times, pesto has also become a catch-all term for any blend of greens, nuts, and olive oil.

Sicilian Style Pesto

(By Frankie Celenza, chef and host of Tastemade’s hit series Struggle Meals.)

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Frankie Celenza has been nominated for a 2020 Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Culinary Host and is the recipient of three New York Emmy awards, including one in 2016 for “Best Host” and a 2017 IAWTV Award for “Best Host” on the Tastemade production of “Frankie’s World.”

This Sicilian Pesto recipe is fruitier and more acidic than the classic Genovese Pesto. Some helpful tips — taste and adjust as needed. For example, start with one clove of garlic and add more based on your preference. If it becomes too thick when mixing into pasta, olive oil is your answer.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups basil
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup ricotta
  • 1/3 cup parmigiano
  • 2 cups cherry or roma tomatoes
  • 2 -3 cloves garlic
  • 1-2 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and black pepper

Method:

  1. Place all ingredients into a food processor and pulse well.
  2. 2. Serve with bread or your favorite pasta.

History of Pesto

Pesto was invented in Genoa, Italy, appearing for the first time in the mid-19th century. The lineage of this fragrant green sauce can be traced to an ancient Roman version ­­called moretum, a dip made from herbs, cheese, garlic, and olive oil. The name pesto is Genovese, meaning “to pound” or “to crush.” The Genovese are intensely proud of their invention. For the pesto connoisseur in Genoa, true pesto can only exist in its birthplace, made with the original ingredients of basil, cheese (parmigiano-reggiano or pecorino sardo), pine nuts, garlic, and olive oil.

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Because pesto is now global, the sauce has acclimated itself to the flavors of different cultures and countries. Peruvian pesto, introduced to the country by Italian immigrants, is made with spinach and walnuts. In southern France, a version without nuts called pistou is popular. Even in Italy, different versions of pesto exists, such as Sicilian pesto alla trapanese, which includes tomatoes combined with traditional pesto ingredients.

Tip and Techniques

Remember, pesto is a raw sauce — none of the ingredients are cooked before its combined. Although the word pesto might mean “to pound,” authentic pesto is grounded in a mortar and pestle. This preparation ensures the basil releases its full aroma, which is less fragrant when crushed.

These days, pesto is often made with a food processor. This a great replacement for the modern cook as the result will still be delicious while also saving time. For a more traditional version, though, try preparing pesto in a mortar and pestle. This process creates a completely different texture and flavor. Blending the sauce produces emulsification, resulting in a smooth sauce. By using a mortar and pestle, the pieces of the individual ingredients will remain separate, allowing the ability to taste the separate flavors rather than a smooth, blended paste. For the best pesto, use only small young basil leaves.

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