Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pesto: A Story of Basil.

As this is the week of mourning my dead basil plant, it’s only fitting I explain where my love for basil came from.

That’s where.
(Well, Italy and Chicago.)

In three brief snapshots:

After riding all night in a train hot and sticky, next to Italian men in tanktops, we pull in to Naples.  Naples is on garbage strike that week.  = Piles of garbage and angry people everywhere.  And it’s hot hot hot.  We decide to find an internet café to get directions to Pompeii or find that pizza shop Elizabeth Gilbert talks about in Eat Pray Love.  We wander the whole city, backpacks and everything, and we’re hot and we’re tired and we’re hungry.  Every internet café is closed.  Every. Single. One.  In the whole city.  (There are only two, so I guess our odds weren’t super good to begin with.)  In frustration, we throw our hands up and decide to grab some pizza from a little place right next to the train station before getting back on our train and heading to Rome.  Naples?  Fail. 

We duck into the pizza shop, and the waiters and pizza throwers behind the counter shout “hurrah!” and welcome us in.  The air’s cool and clean and the waiters are falling over each other to make us laugh, saying funny things, mocking us, batting their dark eyelashes. 

Then we see it—pictures of Julia Roberts on the wall.  We’ve found it—the Eat Pray Love pizzeria.  Legendary.

And out come two plate-size pizzas, steam rolling off the cheese and the sauce and the crispy soft crust.  And in the middle, one large basil leaf.

Those pizzas saved Naples.
Nay, they exalted Naples.
Naples?  Perfect.

To shake off the effects of a somewhat disappointing and rather rainy weekend in Florence, we chose the Cinque Terre to unwind for some days.  In Vernazza (one of the five (cinque) villages (terre)), we got freckly.  The first night, from a man as handsome as any Italian ever was, we ordered a pesto (pesto’s main ingredient: basil) pizza and ate it on the dock at sunset.  And then did so every night thereafter.

In Chicago for a writing conference, Laura and Natalie and I were faced with walking through near blizzards to get to the presentations we wanted to attend. We wanted good, warm food and quick, but none of us being familiar with the streets of Chicago, chances of finding such were looking slim.  Then we found it—a little corner soup and sandwich café.  I ordered a panini with (you’ll never guess) basil.  Those sandwiches very well may have been the only thing keeping our essaying fingers from freezing right off.

So in other words, basil saves lives.

And so I give to you a recipe for pesto, which was my favorite way to use my (former) basil plant.  R.I.P. Basil.

¼ cup walnuts
5 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
half teaspoon salt
half teaspoon pepper
half cup Parmesan
3/4 cup olive oil

Blend the nuts and garlic in a food processor for 30 seconds. Add the basil, salt, and pepper. Slowly add the olive oil and blend until smooth. Add the Parmesan and blend for a minute.

I eat pesto on pasta, sandwiches, pizza, ice cream, or breadsticks.  (Just kidding about the ice cream. Although I would not be opposed to trying a basil-flavored gelato.  Maybe basil-lemon or basil-raspberry?) You can also mix the pesto with mayonnaise for a good sandwich spread.

(To use later, store the pesto in an air-tight container in the fridge or freezer.)

Buon Appetito!


  1. I've only ever used pine nuts so I'm excited to try walnuts (seeing as how I've just acquired a large and healthy basil plant from work). This post is serendipitous for me while tragic for you. I'm sorry for your loss.

  2. I absolutely love pesto! Have you tried the pesto panini at Zupas? I'm excited to try this recipe!