No one knows how to pack a flavor punch quite like the Italians.
Perhaps it’s the tradition of using incredibly fresh ingredients, perhaps it’s a culture of discerning palates, or perhaps it just comes from generations of practice, but Italian cuisine has some of the simplest yet most delicious items in the world.
Pesto is a shining example of Italian culinary achievement that’s shockingly simple but always delicious.
From The Ground Up
Pesto originated around 4 centuries ago near the Northern Italy town of Genoa. Not far from the coast and not far from Tuscany, the region boasts uniquely fertile soil that grows an abundance of basil.
Because of this, 16th century Italians devised a dish consisting of basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts, and parmesan cheese. The word pesto was used to describe the mix as it is Italian for “to pound” or “to crush,” and the traditional preparation involves a mortar and pestle.
The broadness of this name means that pesto can refer to any sauce that has been ground in this way, though the widely accepted definition refers to the paste-like sauce described above. The tradition of pesto was handed down through generations of Italians, and spread across the world with their culture.
Still, one of the oldest uses of pesto was as a pasta sauce, and that use remains quite popular today as well.
Unlike Any Other
Pesto pasta is unusual in that it doesn’t rest on the usual Italian laurels for sauce making. Usually when you think of a pasta sauce it’s either tomato or cream based, but pesto is an herbaceous outlier that contains neither of these usual suspects.
Instead, pesto is highly textured and extremely flavorful. This means that, unlike many other sauces, you don’t want to drench your dish in pesto. Instead, a light covering of the noodles is all it takes to enjoy the flavor without being overpowered by it.
Making Things Easy on Yourself
By far the simplest way to create your own pesto pasta dish is to purchase a jar of pesto already made. This might feel like a cop out, but you won’t have a hard time finding fresh pesto, and it simply cuts several extra steps out of your routine. Plus, you don’t have to worry about using up the extra immediately.
As such, this recipe calls for 2 ½ tablespoons of pesto, along with pasta of any kid, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. To make the dish, simply start by cooking your pasta. As you’re doing that, combine the pesto with the additional cheese and olive oil.
Once the noodles are cooked, drain them and add the pesto sauce. The olive oil will help thin the pesto enough that it can coat your pasta more easily, and you’ll have well balanced flavors.
Just because pesto pasta is traditionally made with classic pesto doesn’t mean that’s the way you need to do it. Perhaps you don’t like basil or pine nuts, so you want to change them out for another herb or nut; ultimately, this will do little to change the texture, and will simply make the flavor more enjoyable for you.
Perhaps rather than taking anything away, you want to add a little something extra to your pesto pasta. Try mixing in a little bit of asiago cheese, or adding some tomatoes. Prosciutto also pairs wonderfully with pesto pasta, and can be thrown into the concoction as well.
The great thing about long standing traditions like pesto pasta is that they’ve been experimented with for long enough that everything’s been tried at least once. There’s no wrong way to enjoy pesto pasta, so give your own flavor a shot.