Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pesto di Basilico

Eastside Road, October 12, 2011—
I'VE BEEN TRYING to think of just when it was we first ate pesto, and how we may have learned of it. Certainly I never had pesto in my childhood. We had garlic, of course, though usually in the form of garlic salt. (That in spite of the fact that Dad always good-naturedly scoffed at his brother-in-law the Hungarian George because when they met George worked in a "garlic factory" in Salinas, and was something of a social outcast.)

No: I'm sure I met pesto fairly early in my married life. I don't know if it was served in Lindsey's childhood: her father was born in Piemonte, not that far from pesto's Ligurian homeland, but I don't recall her mother ever cooking particularly Italian. We probably met pesto, Lindsey and I, through reading Elizabeth David. Or maybe a little earlier, from Irma Mazza: here is her Herbs for the Kitchen (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, the 1947 tenth printing), with Lindsey's name on the flyleaf, and the annotation "Christmas 1961." Two bookmarks: one for meat loaf; one for general pasta-cooking instructions. There in the index, though, is Pesto di Basilico, and the entry, on page 309, reminds me that our first involvement with pesto was as a garnish on minestrone, usually the canned minestrone from the Habitat label, as I recall.

Irma Mazza was a Berkeley girl, I read in a nice little piece online; early in our marriage she lived in a brown clapboard house on Walnut Street, only a block or so from Chez Panisse. We may have met her: I'm not sure. In addition to Herbs for the Kitchen she wrote an earlier cookbook, Accent on Seasonin: we have them both, consult them rarely if ever, would never part with them. In those days there were few cookbooks — Moe's used book store, for example, up on Telegraph Avenue, had only a small case, no bigger than the computer hutch I'm looking at at the moment; I'd check it every week or two, and if there were a cookbook there we didn't have, I'd buy it if I could. The result is in the photo above, which doesn't include the working books, the ones we actually do consult, which are in the kitchen. (One of these days I'll put a bibliography here; it might be amusing.)

Today we had fusilli con pesto, with basil from the garden — there's nothing like pesto made absolutely fresh. (The way I make it is described, with photos, here.) Alas we don't have our own pine nuts at the moment: maybe I'll try to harvest some next week. Mazza ignores them altogether, which is probably preferable to using those from China.
rillette.jpg  canteloupe.jpg
What else: Oh: lunch today: toast and those wonderful rillettes of Franco's, with celery and tomato; afterward, the last cantaloupe from the garden, one of the most flavorful we'd picked — and they were all full of flavor.
Tempranillo, Terranal (Yecla, Spain), 2010: a little coarse at first, but quickly ingratiating, sidling up to the garlic

1 comment:

Curtis Faville said...


You probably know that Moe's 4th Floor recently acquired a large vintage culinary library, which has been coming out in dribs and drabs to the working shelves. I snagged Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking in its first British edition from that one.

They have a really extensive section on the 2nd (mezzanine) floor, of course. Green Apple in San Francisco is great for new cook books.