I first visited Arenzano, a small town just outside of Genoa, as one stop of many as I traipsed around Western Europe with two girlfriends, freshly out of high school. Whereas we had elected the backpacking-and-sleeping-in-hostels route, one of my other good friends and two of his buddies had decided to do nearly the same trip, with a higher parental monetary participation allowing for them to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants.
While we loved our version of the trip, we were more than happy to spend a couple of nights in the middle of our five week adventure camping out on their floor in their hotel in Arenzano, cleaner than many hostel beds. After a train-train-bus-bus sort of scenario, we finally arrived in the beautiful seaside town, and we spent the next few days getting to know my friend’s group of Italian amici that he had made during a study abroad stint several years before. One of the first things we did when we met the group of them, all dressed to the nines, with gelled hair and ironic glasses several years before they were cool, was find a place to eat.
As soon as I opened the menu, I was told, via a series of hand gestures and Italian words that sounded like babbling to my ears, to try the trofie with pesto. I’m a fan of local specialties and an even bigger fan of pesto, so I did as I was told. The trofie reminded me of spatzle, a German pasta that my mother used to serve with green beans and pesto when I was growing up. But while the pasta, technically new to me, seemed familiar, the pesto was a horse of a different color: the flavors were brighter than anything I had ever tasted before, and I don’t know if it was the combination of the view on the water and the circle of friends — some of whom I barely knew, or whether the pesto really was that good, but ever since, I’ve been making my own whenever I have the chance.
A true Ligurian would jump down my throat for changing the traditional recipe at all, but I’ve found my own ways of doing things, namely adding bitter carrot greens to the traditional basil, and subbing pine nuts, which are expensive and go bad quickly, for pistachios. You, however, can make the recipe either way: it will be delicious and fresh no matter what you do.
Recipe: Kind-Of Ligurian Pesto
- 2 bunches basil OR 1 bunch basil and 1 bunch carrot greens
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 pinch salt
- ~20 pine nuts OR ~10 pistachios
- ~1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup to 1 cup good extra virgin olive oil
- Start by chiffonnading the basil and finely chopping the carrot greens: stack about 10 (washed and dried) basil leaves on top of one another, roll into a tube, and slice into thin strips. Slice all the basil this way, and then finely chop the carrot greens.
- Mince the garlic. Place in the bottom of a mortar, if you have one, or a wide glass or porcelain bowl, if you don’t. Using a pestle or the wrong end of a wooden spoon, mash the garlic with the salt until it forms a paste.
- Smash the nuts with the side of a chef’s knife against a cutting board, and add them to the bowl with the garlic. Mash them as well, until they are fairly small and evenly distributed.
- Begin adding herbs, a handful at a time, working them into the garlic and nut paste. Drizzle in olive oil as you work so that the entire thing forms a thick paste. Continue adding herbs and olive oil until you are out of herbs.
- Add the parmesan and mix to combine. To store, freeze in an ice cube tray and keep the frozen cubes in a freezer bag. Leftover sauce can be stored in the fridge for up to a week, with a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the sauce to keep it from coloring.
Emily Monaco is native New Yorker, living and writing in Paris since 2007. She loves discovering new places and, of course, their local cuisines! Read about her adventures in food and travel at tomatokumato.com or follow her on Twitter at @emiglia