Pesto Imposters.

When is a pesto not a pesto? When its made from every other vegetable on the planet except basil. Some folk argue that any nut, vegetable product, garlic and oil can be processed into a pesto.  Witness artichoke pesto, pumpkin pesto, coriander and cashew pesto, beetroot pesto, mint pesto  and so the list goes on. What is it about this word, pesto, and why is it applied to every paste, dip, condiment and spread on the supermarket shelves and in cookbooks?  Pesto comes from the verb pestare, to pound, as does the pestello, or pestle used to pound it. When we think of pesto, Liguria and Genova come to mind, followed by thoughts of fragrant basil, pine nuts, garlic, and a good parmigiana or pecorino or both. Lets preserve the word for the real thing and use good old English words, such as paste, for the imposters.

A simple pesto recipe for the basil season.

2 Tablespoons pine nuts

4 small garlic cloves, peeled

1/4 teaspoon course sea salt

one large bunch of basil, leaves stripped from stalks

1/2 cup or more of extra virgin olive oil

finely grated parmesan, grana padano parmigiana, around 1/2 cup or more.

Add the first three ingredients to the food processor. Grind to a paste, then add basil leaves. When sufficiently mushed up, add oil slowly to mix while running motor. Add parmigaina to taste by hand. Taste, season, adjust with more oil or cheese.  Serve with pasta, add to arancini, toss with steamed green beans or new potatoes, drizzle over grilled fish.

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Memories of Marcella Hazan

Marcella Hazan, who passed away on September 29, ¬†was my cooking muse. ¬†I feel that I knew her well. She fulfilled the role of Italian aunt, she was my Zia from Venice and Florida.¬†Her voice was often bossy but sensible. In the late 1980’s, I owned two small cookbooks by Marcella, all text, no glossy pictures, with recipe titles and indexing in Italian before English (unlike her modern editions). Some of my favourite recipes came from these two volumes and they have become part of my extended family‘s repertoire too. ¬†Young chef Daisy can smell Zuppa di bietola e fagioli bianchi as soon as she walks in the door. Marcella not only taught me how to cook down to earth Italian food, but also my first Italian words, soffrito and battuto. No Ciao bella and Va bene for meit was always about the cooking. ¬†From this little beginning, came a degree in Italian, some translating, lots of travelling to Italy, and Italian friends. Marcella completely changed my life. ¬†Although sadly I no longer own the modest dark green and maroon cookbooks, my versions of her recipes live on.

Marcella advised, in a forthright manner, on the importance of using salt, so I dedicate my little Italian salt container to the  memory of Marcella.

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Don’t Call Them Cookies.

Its a baking day today, the wind is howling, the grey sky looks threatening and young chef Daisy is here to assist. “Lets ¬†make some cookies,¬†Daisy”. ” BISCUITS” comes the cry from a nearby room, ” not cookies”. ¬†One way to ruffle Mr Tranquillo’s¬†feathers is to use ¬†American¬†terminology, ¬†especially in front of children. Australian linguistic traditions are slowly disappearing, and the lovely word biscuit is under threat. “Ok, OK, biscuit,¬†biscotti, whatever.” ¬†I know he is right.

These yummy biscuits are similar to Anzacs but are softer and uglier like Brutti ma Buoni, my favourite Italian biscotto. They are simple and quick to make, and store well.

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The recipe

  • 1 and 1/4 cups plain flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3/4 cup castor sugar
  • 1/2 cup sultanas
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries, or chopped dried apricots, or other dried fruit.
  • 150 gr unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 Tb Golden Syrup
  • 1 Tb water
  • 1/2 teas bi-carb soda

Method

Preheat the oven to 180c or a little less for fan forced.

Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl.  Melt the butter with the golden syrup and water in a small saucepan. Add the bicarb soda to this wet mixture. Stir briefly then add to the dry mix. Roll into balls and place on two long biscuit baking sheets lined with non stick paper. Leave on tray for 5 minutes, then move to cooling rack.

Bake for around 18 minutes in the centre of the oven or until golden brown.

Variations include adding chopped macadamias and so on, keeping the proportions the same.

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