May 24, 2010
The Spring season brings thoughts of gardening and planting. Many peopke plant herbs to grow and nothing is easier or more fun to have in the garden than Basil. Basil is used quite often in Italian cooking but also in Asia cooking, although it is a different cultivar. Italian basil is usually called sweet basil as opoosed to Thai basil or lemon basil.
Basil is usually added at the last moment because if it is cooked to long, the delicate flavors are destroyed.
Basil is one of the main ingredients in pesto which is usually served on pasta or occasionally with bread. You can also use pesto as a way to garnish soup.
The most traditional pesto recipe is called Pesto alla Genovese. Here’s a fun youtube video of a chef explaining how to make pesto, a very easy recipe.
Pesto has a few main ingredients and then some alternatives. Some pesto recipes call for adding potatoes and green beans, others do not. The mainstays of pesto are olive oil, pine nuts, basil and pecorino cheese.
Pesto is perfect for the spring and summer and is a great way to feed many people at a party. It goes very well with Italian white wines such as Vermentino, Pigato and some Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige.
If you have no desire to make pesto, you can buy it at the Alta Cucina Store.
August 27, 2009
All 20 of Italy’s regions have specific culinary traditions but most have at least one or two signature dishes that are on almost every menu in the region. One of the most ubiquitous and the most delicious of Ligurian treats is their homemade squiggly pasta called trofie which are generally served with pesto. Pesto can be made in a number of ways. The basic pesto ingredients are basil, garlic, pinoli nuts, cheese and oil. In Liguria, many cooks add green beans and potatoes to the dish. You can either purchase pesto or make it at home.
The pasta is a bit more laborious but here is a great recipe from a blog by Helen Rennie. Buying trofie in New York can present somewhat of a challenge but fresh pasta producers such as Raffetto’s in the West Village or Borgattis on Arthur Avenue would be a good place to begin your search.
If all of this seems too much, you can hop over to Scuderia on 6th Avenue and order this lovely dish. A great wine to drink while eating pesto is the local Vermentino, a white wine which is made in Liguria, in parts of Tuscany and in Sardinia. The best Vermentino from Liguria come from an area called Colli di Luni. This summer dish is light and is always a crowd pleaser at dinner parties as well.
Often overlooked by tourists who opt to vacation in Tuscany, Liguria has much to offer. Renowned for its small picturesque villages perched on hills overlooking the Mediterranean, it is also a wonderful place to hike as well as scuba dive or sail. Many northern Italians tend to spend their weekends here and part of the summer. Liguria can also be a great place to vacation with young children as the sea is relatively shallow and calm close to the shoreline. On your next visit, keep Liguria in mind for a holiday jaunt. You won’t be disappointed.
August 20, 2009
Summer in Liguria is a classic for many Northern Italians. A few hours away from Milan and Turin by train or by car, this beautiful region is well known for its’ beaches, picturesque towns and its focaccia. Many types are made throughout Liguria but perhaps the most famous is the focaccia from Recco. Made with crescenza cheese, it is sold in Recco located on the Italian Riviera which runs from Ventimiglia to La Spezia and is separated into two different zones, Levante e Ponente. Focaccia up and down the Ligurian coast is as much a part of summer in Liguria as the classic afternoon gelato. It can be bought at any of the local bakeries which line the towns along the coast. Recco’s cheesy version is the most famous but there are many types, including the simple one from Genova, those that are more like pizza, others with onions, olives, rosemary. Focaccia is also a perfect picnic food with a nice light white wine from Liguria. Vermentino and Pigato are two varietals that have made a recent splash in the United States as well.
Just as New Yorkers argue endlessly who makes the best bagel, Italians in towns up and down the coast have strong opinions on the quality of the various bakeries and gelaterias. Some years it seems that one prevails over all others but it generally depends on the quality of the dough and the oven used. One thing is certain, if you vacation in Liguria, you too will come to love focaccia. While it is sold in many other parts of the world, it never quite tastes the same as it does right after you take a swim in the Mediterranean. In any case, just as great pizza has made its way to the United States, true focaccia can not be far behind.