We've grown our own basil for years now and of course, we all love pesto. One of the most basic ways to have pesto is with pasta, and our favorite is Insalata di Pasta con Pesto with Tuna and Heirloom Tomatoes.
To begin, you have to grab a bunch of basil from the garden (or buy a large bunch from a supermarket or farmer's market). I usually cut the top leaf stalks off of about 4 plants in my garden when I want to make some pesto. I would guess when I remove the stems, it gives me about 2 cups of fresh basil leaves.
The first step in making pesto is to pull all the leaves off their stems. The stems would make it stringy... you want only the leaves. For this reason, I prefer to grow Lettuce Leaf Basil when I can find spring plants or grow it from seed. The larger leaves that variety make it easy to harvest enough for a quick pesto meal. I've grown all sorts of other basils in the past, but some--like lemon basil--have such tiny leaves it's not worth the hassle of harvesting enough for a meal. (The following pesto recipe will make enough for 3-4 meals, depending how you are using the pesto.)
I use a salad spinner to wash and then to spin the leaves dry. After spinning several times, they are dry enough to place into a blender or food processor. (Your choice). I add about 1 cup of an extra virgin olive oil and then, instead of pignoli nuts, I add 1 - 1/2 cups of walnuts. They are cheaper and I like the flavor better. Add a pinch of salt, about 10 grinds of fresh black pepper and then start to pulse the mixture. If you like, you can squeeze some fresh lemon or lime into the mix to brighten the flavors.
Pay attention to the texture of your pesto. You want it to be like a thick paste and depending on your personal preference, you might like it a bit chunkier or very smooth. I prefer the slight crunch of the walnuts, so I don't go all that smooth with my mixing. If it looks like the pesto is too thick to can always drizzle in a bit more extra virgin olive oil to thin it out. When you are nearly at your final texture, add about 1 cup of your favorite grated cheese... Pecorino Romano, Locatelli or my favorite, Parmigiano-Reggiano. You might even try a dry sharp Provolone. Do a few final pulses to get the texture you want--I like it a bit grittier when used with pasta directly, but more smooth if I'm going to use it as an ingredient in a creamy pesto sauce, for ravioli or gnocchi, for instance.
Now, to make the salad itself. Boil a big pot of water for your favorite pasta. This time we used an unusual imported bowtie pasta, but you can use any farfalle, radiatore, fusilli or campanelli, or even penne rigati, as long as the shape has ridges to hold the sauce. As your pasta cooks, prepare the salad ingredients... You'll use about 1 cup (or a bit more if you like) of the pesto--this recipe makes enough pesto for about 3 meals. Just keep the rest in a plastic container and top it off with olive oil to prevent oxidation. After you've put your pesto into a large serving bowl, add 1 tin or jar of a good quality, Italian imported tuna and some cut up tomatoes. I used a variety of heirloom cherry sized tomatoes I'm growing this year. If you like, you could also add black pitted olives and even some steamed (or canned and microwaved) string beans or Italian flat beans.
Drain the cooked pasta and pour over the salad ingredients. Using a large serving spoon, toss gently while turning the pasta bowl several times to coat the pasta with all the ingredients. I usually top it off with more grated or flakes of Parmigiano-Reggiano. You can chill this a bit or serve at room temperature. Your choice. Try a good quality chianti with this dish, or perhaps a light soda made from seltzer and one of your favorite Torani syrop flavors. (We love having a Sodastream unit in the house for this reason...)
Ecco qui... my simple, fresh and very tasty summer Insalata di Pasta con Pesto! Buon appetito!
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