One Christmas Eve when my Uncle Benny arrived at the house with my Aunt Angie and Johnny and Ralph, he was holding a container wrapped in a plastic bag. He walked over to me and said, “Do you know what I got here?” I looked at him and with anticipation I said, “No Uncle Benny, what is it?” “Green sauce”, he said as he waited for my reaction. “REALLY!”, I said. “Green sauce”, my Uncle Benny repeated. “Did you ever have green sauce?” I looked at him and shrugged my shoulders and said “No!” He laughed and said “You see, you gonna like it”, he said in his broken English.
That evening that was the first time I ever had “green sauce”, or as we know it today as, pesto. Pesto didn’t become popular in the United States until the 1980’s, so Uncle Benny was ahead of the curve. And I know he didn’t have a food processer back then, so he made it the traditional way with a mortar and pestle.
It tasted a little odd to me at the time, I was around 10 years old. I remember the look on my uncle’s face as he watched everyone enjoy eating it. My Uncle Benny had a limited menu he could prepare. Many Christmas Eves’ he would be in charge of the “Pulpo”, a cold octopus salad with chopped celery, garlic, onions, fresh lemon juice, fennel, and extra virgin olive oil. Uncle Benny was the master of the Pulpo salad. Coming from Riposto, a fishing village in Sicily, seafood was his specialty.
Even though Uncle Benny and Aunt Angie are gone, at Christmas Eve we still talk about his Pulpo. I made it myself a few times and brought it to the Christmas Eve table, and every one would associate it with my Uncle Benny. And because of him, I had my first taste of “green sauce”.
I make pesto every summer when my basilico is growing wild in my herb garden. I freeze batches of them in little air tight containers. They store well for months. I experimented one time and made the classic pesto but added sun-dried tomatoes to the mix. I was surprised how good it tasted. In addition to the flavor, the “green sauce” gets a little red color from the tomatoes. It’s quite pleasant.
You can use this recipe to make classic pesto, or add the sun-dried tomatoes for an extra layer of flavor to the pesto. I normally add pesto to any kind of pasta. But I also found it works well on salmon. Spread a few tablespoons of pesto to the top of your piece of salmon and bake it in the oven for about 20 minutes and it’s delicious. Baking chicken breast covered in pesto is also delicious.
3 cups fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/4 cup pignoli nuts
12 sun dried tomato halves
1/2 cup red wine
Salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon
1 pound of pasta, linguine or spaghetti
Place the sun dried tomatoes an a microwave safe bowl and cover with the red wine. Place the bowl in the microwave for about a minute and 30 seconds. Allow the tomatoes to steep in the wine to reconstitute them and get soft.
Put the pine nuts in a small frying pan and toast over medium heat till they just get golden. Place in a bowl to cool.
Wash the basil and pat dry.
Put the leaves in a food processor along with the garlic, grated cheese and pignoli nuts and blend until mixture is chopped up well.
Drain the wine from the sun dried tomatoes and add to the processor. Run the processor for about 30 seconds to blend in the tomatoes. While the food processor is running pour a steady stream of olive oil into the funnel until all the oil is used up or until the mixture becomes a thick purée. Add a few pinches of salt and set aside.
Cook the pasta in 5 quarts of salted water. Drain the pasta and place the pasta in a large bowl. Add the pesto and toss. Serve with additional Romano cheese.
Pesto may be frozen and keeps well 3-4 months in the freezer.