The summer season rolled in, and I have been in a pesto frenzy. Since basil lasts but one day in the refrigerator, and I’ve been unsuccessful growing it myself given the foggy, cold weather in San Francisco (which is thankfully over, by the way), pesto has been the natural answer. And, with the wonderful addition of ripe summer tomatoes, it has been pesto, pesto, and more pesto all summer long.
I recently discovered zucchette pasta at Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco, which is made locally and may be hard to find elsewhere. What I love about this pasta is the large basket-like structure that holds the sauce well. Other pastas that work well are orecchiette, campanelle, tortellini or linguine.
Gnocchi– I also made gnocchi for the first time the other night, and it was amazing. Gnocchi was never a personal favorite, but I’m singing a new tune after tasting the homemade version. It’s well worth it, if you don’t mind rolling up your sleeves. I used this recipe from Epicurious. I boiled the potatoes (although it’d be fun to see if baking makes a difference in the outcome) and used a grater (the larger sized holes) to grate the potato since I didn’t have a rice mill. It worked perfectly! I read that the gnocchi will be lighter if you grate it while it’s still hot, so you do need to use a towel or something to protect your hands in the process.
Also, as I cut the individual gnocchi, I later realized I should have placed them separately (not touching) on a floured sheet pan rather than piling them into a bowl. (They somewhat stuck together- luckily, it wasn’t a catastrophe thanks to copious amounts of flour.) I’m looking forward to making this again because it seems like the kind of pasta you could experiment with. I remember ordering it one night at Bar Tartine, and was surprised to find it was more like little hash browns the way they approached it that night. Yum.
The Pesto– Once you’ve made pesto a couple times, you don’t really need a recipe and can simply eyeball the ratios, tasting it as you go and making adjustments as necessary. It’s also very helpful if you have a Cuisinart. I’ve tried making it in a blender, and it never worked very well. The basic ingredients are 1-2 large bunches basil, ~ 1/3 cup olive oil, 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1-2 minced garlic cloves (be careful not to put in too much garlic or it over-powers here), generous salt and pepper. Place all the ingredients in the blender, except the olive oil and then while blending, slowly pour in the oil in a steady stream. You may need a bit more, depending on the consistency you like. Blend until smooth. I found this recipe on Simply Recipes that is more-or-less how I make it too.
For a pesto pasta dish–
1/2 onion, chopped
1-2 small zucchinis, preferably different kinds, sliced medium to small
2-3 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1 inch size pieces
Handful of toasted pinenuts, if you still have some
Directions: While boiling the pasta, saute the onion until softened, about 5-7 minutes. Add the zucchini and saute for about 2 minutes (or more depending on the size of the zucchini- if it’s cut small it doesn’t take long to cook). Add about 1 cup pesto and stir in, heating, about 2 minutes. Drain the pasta when it’s ready, reserving a very small amount of the boiling water and toss with a touch of olive oil. Stir in the pesto, onion and zucchini mixture, adding in the tomatoes and pine nuts. Mix thoroughly until the pasta is well-covered, and serve.
– Include sliced or diced mushrooms. In this scenario, after cooking the onion, add a pat of butter and a touch more olive oil. When melted, add mushrooms and stir for a moment. Then stir in a generous splash of dry white wine and saute mushrooms until starting to brown and most of the liquid has cooked off. Then add zucchini and proceed with recipe.
– Include chopped artichoke hearts. Saute along with the pesto to briefly warm.