I want to share a recipe from sunny Liguria. I trust you have all heard about the Pesto sauce. Today, however, I will share a variation of the traditional pesto recipe: “Trenette avvantagiae”, trenette (type of pasta similar to fettuccine), condite (dressed) with the aromatic pesto and enriched with patate (potatoes) and fagiolini (green beans) . . . doesn’t it sound delicious?
This recipe is not only perfect for the warm days of Spring and Summer, it is also another example of Mediterranean Diet. Of course, it is also a perfect choice for your meatless Friday or Monday.
If you have been following my blog, you know that a little bit of history always precedes my recipes. It is not different today, of course you could scroll directly down to the “important” part, but I know you wouldn’t do that!
Liguria is one of the smallest regions of Italy, a narrow strip of land, whose landscape precludes extensive crop field. The Southern exposure, however, along with a mild climate favor an intensive production of vegetables, herbs, fruit, olives and grapes.
Intrinsic to the Liguria landscape are the terrazzamenti (terraces), large steps bordered by stone walls, which allow to make the most of small portions of land.
Amongst the local produces stands the basilico genovese (Genoese basil). This basil, characterized by small leaves and intense aroma, is quintessential in the preparation of pesto: that deliciously fresh sauce typical of Genova, made indeed with basilico, aglio, pinoli, olio extravergine e formaggio (basil, garlic, pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil and cheese).
The name Pesto comes from the traditional preparation method, which prescribes the “pestatura” (crushing) of the ingredients in a marble mortaio (mortar) with a wooden pestello (pestle).
The same technique is used in the preparation of other Liguria’ specialties such as salsa di noci (walnut sauce), which I particularly love. I will share that recipe at a later time.
It is very likely that the Liguri borrowed the use of mortar and pestle from the Saracens. Genova’s wealth in fact, for centuries, had attracted the Normans and the Saracens that looted the city several times.
Between the centuries XII and XIV, Genova was one of the most powerful Repubbliche Marinare (Maritime Republics). Considering its important role in the Mediterranean Sea, it is not surprising to find culinary similarities with remote areas such as Sicily. Trenette for example – the name comes from “trena” that in Genoese means stringa (shoelace) – derive from the Sicilian Tria, a particular type of pasta often combined with chickpeas.
In Liguria, the trenette, along with the trofie, are the perfect companion for the pesto sauce and they are the pasta of choice for today’s featured recipe.
I own a mortar and pestle, I use however, a food blender to make my pesto as I have not mastered yet the art of “pestatura”, which is not as easy as you would expect. I will admit that the taste of pesto made with the traditional method is different and certainly better. Today, however, most Italians prepare homemade pesto with the aid of a blender; it might not be perfect, yet it is far better that the store-bought one!
In this recipe, I only use the pestle to crush the garlic with salt before adding it to the other ingredients.
For a classic recipe using the traditional mortar and pestle you can visit the official site of the Consortium of Pesto Genovese.
My Trenette Avvantagiae
(Trenette with pesto, green beans and potatoes)
For the pesto sauce:
2 -1/4 cups fresh basil leaves (preferably young, small leaves of the Genoese quality)
½ cup Extra-Virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino cheese
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of pine nuts
1 lb trenette or fettuccine or linguine
¼ pound green beans
1 large Russet potato
1 tablespoon of unsalted butter
First let’s take care of the basil. Following my mother’s advice, I do not wash the basil leaves, or else they would lose their aroma. I wet a kitchen towel with hot water, I squeeze the water out and with the damp towel I wipe the basil leaves. Then, I let the leaves dry completely.
Peel, wash and dice the potato. Trim and rinse the green beans.
In a large pot bring the water to boil, add salt. Add the diced potatoes and the green beans to the salted boiling water.
Once cooked, spoon out of the water. Keep the potatoes warm. Cut the green beans into thirds and keep them warm.
In the same boiling water add the trenette – I used fettuccine – and let cook.
In the meanwhile prepare the pesto.
NOTE: You don’t want to prepare the pesto too far in advance or you will incur in oxidation problems. Oxidation (leaves turning dark and flavor deterioration) happens when the leaves are in contact with the oxygen in the air. First rule to prevent oxidation is to make sure the basil leaves are completely dry. This will allow the oil to coat the leaves and create a seal. Second rule is to work the blender slowly – even better in pulse. This will prevent the blades from heating and therefore will prevent the oxidation.
In the food processor, first add the oil then the basil leaves, the crushed garlic/salt. Process slowly adding more oil if necessary. Add the grated cheeses and pulse few times to blend the ingredients.
The pesto is now ready to be used. Of course, you can use this pesto recipe for classic pasta al pesto – I also like with gnocchi – or to add flavor to a classic minestrone, in which just adding one spoonful of pesto will do the trick. And what about spreading a little bit of pesto on a slice of bread and top it with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a slice of tomatoes? Yum!
One minutes before the trenette are cooked, add the potatoes and green beans to the pot (just to warm them up).
In a large bowl spoon some of the pesto and dilute with a little of the pasta cooking water.
Drain well the pasta, potatoes, and green beans and transfer into the bowl with pesto.
Stir to combine the ingredients, add the remaining pesto and the tablespoon of butter. Stir to combine until the butter has melted.
Plate into individual bowl and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.
I hope you will enjoy this dish as much as I do!
Have you tried this dish before? Have you visited Liguria?