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Episode 4: Hold on to that Basil!
(Pesto Genovese)

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  • Fresh basil
  • Pine nuts
  • Fresh garlic to taste
  • Freshly ground Parmigiano cheese (“Reggiano” or “Gran Padano”)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra Virgin olive oil


  1. Pick the basil leaves off the stems, rinse them in cold water and tumble dry in a salad spinner. You can do this up to two days ahead and store the leaves in the refrigerator in a zip-lock bag (along with a paper towel to absorb moisture).
  2. Put all ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you have a paste. Scrape down the sides if necessary.
  3. Cook linguini or other durum wheat pasta in heavily salted water until al dente.
  4. Save some of the cooking water, drain the rest and slide the pasta into a large mixing bowl (or back into the pasta pot).
  5. Scoop one heaped tablespoon of Pesto per serving over the pasta and add some cooking liquid to break up the paste. Stir until the pasta is evenly covered with pesto.
  6. Serve immediately, with extra freshly ground Parmesan on the side.
  7. To store the Pesto, transfer it into a glass or plastic container, flatten the surface and cover it with olive oil to avoid oxidation. Refrigerate and use within two weeks.


Create your own Pesto with other herbs and nuts. Successfull combinations include: Cilantro with almonds (use blanched almonds; almond skins would add bitterness and an unpleasant texture), arugula and walnuts; and parsley with roasted hazelnuts (rub the nuts in a towel to get rid of most of the bitter skins).


  • Water droplets on the basil leaves will cause the Pesto to turn brown due to oxidation.
  • Don’t skimp on the salt: The paste needs to be salty enough to season a bowl of bland pasta.
  • Pesto is a paste, not a sauce. Hold back on the olive oil.
  • Never heat Pesto. It would change the flavor of the fresh herb and harden the cheese.
  • Stick to durum wheat pasta. The oil in the Pesto turns fresh egg pasta unpleasantly slippery.
  • Always buy Parmigiano by the piece, never pre-ground. It should not be grated like other cheeses, but rather ground into uneven, fine crumbles. This is best done by pulsing chunks of it in a food processor.

History Lesson

Pesto Genovese is a specialty from the town of Genoa in the coastal region of Liguria, in northern Italy. Traditionally, it was made with a marble mortar and wooden pestle. The locals like to serve it tossed with Linguini (flat spaghetti), blanched string beans and halved baby potatoes.

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