Pesto: The Taste Of Spring

by Lael Hazan on April 13, 2011

Pesto is a fresh tasting burst of spring in the mouth. Although in Florida basil can be grown throughout the year, our family doesn’t have green thumbs. In Spring basil plants are readily available at farmer’s markets and cheaper than purchasing the already cut stems. The beauty of pesto is that it is easily freezable which makes it available at anytime. But to me, it is the quintessential spring dish. We tend to eat it in the traditional manner, just the pasta with a few boiled green beans and sliced potatoes and would make a great primo, first dish, during an Easter Feast. For this recipe I made it with dried spaghetti, but it is also wonderful with homemade potato gnocchi, maccheroni alla chitarra (square spaghetti), spaghettini, linguine, and the classic trenette, narrow fettuccine. Easy to put together, it is one of the recipes that the children and I make when Giuliano is traveling. It only takes as much time to prepare as the water takes to boil for the pasta.

The word pesto means “to mash” because originally the ingredients were painstakingly hand processed with a mortar and pestle. Fortunately, since the invention of the food processor, the excruciatingly slow process has become quick and easy. The dish is synonymous with one of my favorite Italian regions, Liguria. Although not on Americans’ traditional Italian itinerary, Liguria is a must visit area. The “fantasy in green” as pesto has been called, when eaten from the local tiny fragrant sweet basil takes on extraordinary undertones that are impossible to replicate.

Porto Venere

Liguria is often called the Italian rivera. It is known as an area of relaxation, luxury, and delectable food. Brightly painted towns nestle in the crevices of cliffs that abut the sea. The five cities of the Cinque Terre, are easily accessible by train or by a beautiful walking path; no cars are allowed. We were fortunate to stay in Rapallo one summer and spent the time exploring and eating our way through remote villages. One of our favorite restaurants became Ü Giancu, an incredible place in San Massimo a hamlet near Rapallo. Known for its Ligurian specialities it is also a destination for anyone interested in the art of cartoons. Hanging on its walls are original drawings from some of the world’s most celebrated cartoonists. Going to the restaurant serves a feast for both the stomach and the eyes as one can see works by Dik and Chris Browne, Hank Ketcham, Luciano Bottaro, Gary Trudeau, Milton Caniff, Will Eisner; and many, many others. A small mountain road that fits only tiny European cars hugs the mountain side.

U Giancu restaurant

Of course, what we Americans would consider a path, is a two lane road that at night has no lights. Italians regularly speed around the turns making for a hair raising drive to and from the restaurant. The drive gets the gestational juices flowing for the meal that awaits. Seasonal delicacies fill the plates and we recommend going with a group so you can have a variety of dishes.



Pesto is also a dish that can made by children. Recently our oldest, twelve-year old Gabriella, had a sleepover. The girls had a wonderful time creating a full multi-course Italian meal for us. They shooed us away from the kitchen and did everything themselves. This was the dish that they created as their primo. After a wonderful meal we were all satiated, it was only then that they presented their surprising bill, instead of payment, they asked that we clean up…


Recipe: Basil Pesto

Summary: Classic Italian Pesto, HOW TO COOK ITALIAN by Giuliano Hazan


  1. 1 1/3 cups fresh basil leaves
  2. 1 small garlic clove
  3. 1/4 cup pine nuts
  4. 1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt
  5. 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  6. 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  7. 3 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano
  8. 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter
  9. 1 pound of dried pasta


  1. Rinse the basil leaves and spin dry. Peel the garlic and place it with the basil, pine nuts, salt, and olive oil in a food processor. Run the processor until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Transfer the contents to a mixing bowl and mix in the grated cheeses with a spoon or rubber spatula.
  2. While the pasta you will serve with the pesto is cooking, ad 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and the butter to the pesto and mix well. When the pasta is done, toss it with the pesto and serve at once.

Quick Notes

Pesto can be made ahead of time and frozen for up to 3 months. After adding the cheeses, place the pesto in a freezer container and coat the surface with olive oil before sealing and placing in the freezer. Defrost before adding the pasta water and butter. It is advisable not to use a metal pan.

Cooking time (duration): 15

Diet type: Vegetarian

Number of servings (yield): 4

Meal type: dinner

Culinary tradition: Italian

Comments on this entry are closed.

Family Foodie April 23, 2012 at 7:21 am

I can’t wait to try this recipe. I love that you shared the story behind it and the fabulous pictures. It reminded me so much of my childhood in Portugal. So glad you shared your inspiration during #Sundaysupper and recognize the importance of spending time Around the Family Table!

Mary @ Delightful Bitefuls April 19, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Wow! This looks incredibly delicious – bookmarked to try!

Great blog; happy I found you!

Mary xo
Delightful Bitefuls

Jamie April 19, 2011 at 11:52 am

I have never been to Liguria but we really must go back to Italy and travel for a while. JP and I have been dreaming of doing that for years! I love pesto but I think that I have only made it one time! Can you believe it? It must be one of my favorite things. Giuliano’s recipe sounds gorgeous and will definitely be tried just as soon as summer basil comes out on the marketplace. Your girls are so talented! And of course you should have cleaned up…. :-)

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen April 17, 2011 at 6:56 am

Ha! That’s great, I love there “bill” for the meal! Now I’m going to start telling my husband that’s his “bill”, think he’ll go for it? :-) I’ve always got some pesto on hand in the freezer and I like to eat it with green beans and potatoes just like you said. It really is a great timer saver and so versatile.

Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite April 16, 2011 at 8:44 pm

Sigh – Portofino is on my list of places I want to visit… In the meantime, I can make this pesto and close my eyes and imagine I am there ;-) The boys in my cooking club love making pesto too – we use the magic bullet ;-) but they have to clean up after themselves LOL!

Krista April 15, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Oh your girls crack me up! Clever little things, aren’t they? :-) Pesto IS spring food for sure. I can’t grow basil worth beans in my tree-shaded yard, but how I love those fresh basil plants for as long as they last. :-)

Ellie (Almost Bourdain) April 14, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Portofino is a place that I have always wanted to visit. Thanks for such a great post and lovely photos. Delicious spring pasta.

Lael Hazan April 14, 2011 at 8:30 pm

Portofino is Beautiful, I do hope you get there some day.

SMITH BITES April 14, 2011 at 10:33 am

we grow pots of basil in our gardens every year; for me, it is the quintessential taste and smell of summer – and there’s nothing better than a drizzle of pesto in a pot of soup or as in this pasta dish. Lael, some day . . . some day I want to take a trip over to Italy and have you as my tour guide – I want to see Italy from your eyes and experience that beautiful country from someone who has the love of food and culture as much as you do Lael – and that is what I get every single time I come here – it’s like a mini vacation!

Lael Hazan April 14, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Aw shucks….. I’d love to have you visit us! Just let me know when you wish to come. I wish I could grow basil for more than one season.

Gus April 14, 2011 at 8:44 am

Best trick I learned from my italian in-laws is to freeze pesto in an ice cube tray, then when frozen pop the cubes out and into a freezer bag. This way you can add as much as needed for an individual serving lunch or a family gathering, and use in any other recipe as well, like suops, or dabbled on a cracker with peppered salami and peccorino slices.

Giuliano Hazan April 14, 2011 at 11:30 am

Great tip!

Darren Touchton April 13, 2011 at 8:29 pm

We do manage to grow Basil in our courtyard here in Sarasota but I can’t seem to grow enough fast enough. This is a great pesto recipe; I think I’ll be whipping up a batch this weekend.

Rob Gardiner April 13, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Here in Seattle, basil is in abundance in summer. People carry bags full of it out of Pike Place Market. I will be making a lot of pesto in July/August.

Rosa April 13, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Nothing can beat homemade pesto! It is so fragrant and delicious. Very spring-like indeed. In April, I love to make mine with wild garlic…



Lael Sara Caplan Hazan April 13, 2011 at 4:16 pm

terrific! It is one of my favorite dishes.

Bruce Barone April 13, 2011 at 4:15 pm

I have been using Marcella’s recipe for pesto ever since I got the book; you should see the condition of that page in particular! I often make alot and then freeze it in ice cubes trays.

Soma April 13, 2011 at 12:09 pm

One of my favorites & probably the best way to have pasta.. simple and soaked with freshness and flavors. How sweet:-) I will have to make my 10 yr old read this!

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