Pestos of the Mediterranean…
With fall finally upon us it’s time to put up what is left of the summer’s bounty and Pesto is always the first thing that comes to my mind. There is nothing like the delight of being able to indulge in the flavors of summer as the depths of winter settle in.
Actually, this is a fond recollection as I live in Thailand, but for those of you further north of the equator, winter is an imminent reality, as it is south of the equator come June. No matter, bright Mediterranean flavors are always a welcome presence on the table whatever the season.
The Italians have their pesto Genovese, the Greeks have Skordalia, The French have Pistou, the Spanish have Romesco, all beautifully utilizing their unique regional flavors ground, beaten, or pounded into simple pestos, an Italian word I use loosely as it best describes the traditional use of a mortar and pestle to make sauces for pastas, soups, meats, fish, and vegetables across the Mediterranean.
(See here) for more information on traditional Italian pesto; Pesto…diverso.
I will be visiting each of these wonderful Mediterranean sauces in subsequent posts, so do follow. All make zesty additions to your repertoire for entertaining as well as just livening up day to day meals.
Spinach pesto has a softer more subtle flavor than a basil pesto and pairs well with restrained additions of the best imported Italian cheeses you can find. Pecorino Romano is an aged sheep’s milk cheese that goes beautifully with spinach as does the aged partially skimmed cow’s milk cheese Parmegiano-Reggiono .
Spinach Pesto with Pancetta… tossed with pasta Serves 6 (2 ½ cups)
- ½ pound/225g spinach leaves
- 1oz/5g Italian basil leaves
- 4 whole garlic cloves, skin on
- 3 ½ oz/100g walnuts, lightly toasted
- ¾ oz/50g pancetta, thinly sliced across the strip and halved
- 1teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt + more to taste
- 1 ¼ teaspoon freshly g round nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 2/3 cup/150ml extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup grated Italian Pecorino Romano cheese
- ½ cup Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 pound/500g dried trenette or linguine pasta
Soak the spinach leaves and basil leaves separately in cold salted water to remove any dirt or sand. Drain and set aside on kitchen towels to air dry.
Steam the spinach leaves just until wilted, about 3 minutes, and set aside on paper towels to dry out.
Lightly toast the walnuts and garlic in a dry saute pan over medium low heat. Transfer to a plate and set aside to cool. Remove the skin from the garlic, chop finely and set aside.
Lightly saute the pancetta over medium low heat until the pancetta is lightly colored and the fat is beginning to render. Set aside to cool
Making the pesto:
If you are a purist by all means use a mortar and pestle to grind the pesto by hand. However, a blender or food processor will produce excellent results with pulsing rather than full tilt blending.
Place the steamed spinach leaves, basil leaves, garlic, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in the processor bowl and pulse until the leaves are finely chopped, scraping down the sides of the work bowl as needed.
Add the walnuts and pulse until the nuts are broken down and the mixture is beginning to form a course meal consistency.
Add the lemon juice and begin pulsing while slowly adding the olive oil. Once the mixture begins to smooth out allow the processor to run continuously until the pesto is relatively smooth, but still with some texture.
Turn the pesto out into a bowl and stir in ¼ cup of Pecorino, ¼ cup Parimgiano, and the pancetta. Stir until well combined. Taste and add additional salt as needed.
Set the pesto aside and keep it at room temperature while you cook the pasta.
Toss the pesto into the drained pasta and serve with the remaining Pecorino and Parmigiano at the table.
Pesto is always best freshly made but can be stored in the refrigerator for several days with a thin layer of olive oil on top of the surface. Pesto can also be frozen, again with a thin film of olive oil on the surface, to seal in the flavor.