Right now is a great time of year to be eating kale. Although it’s available all year round in it’s curly variety in most supermarkets, it’s in season between September and February and so at this time of year you might be able to get your mitts on some more interesting varieties. Plus, we’re all trying to be a little virtuous in January, and kale is a vitamin and mineral dense vegetable, packed with Vitamin C, calcium and beta carotene (which no-one really knows what it is, but hey-ho it sounds super healthy). The kale I’ve used in this recipe was grown by my dad at his allotment and is called cavolo nero (“black cabbage” in Italian, where the variety originates). If you can find cavolo nero to use in this recipe then great – it goes perfectly in stews and soups – but if not then use any kale or cabbage that you like.
This recipe is the godsend of all store-cupboard meals. I do think that the combinations below work particularly well, but the beauty is that you can use whatever veggies you have in the vegetable drawer, whatever meat (bacon, sausages, chorizo would all be great) you have in the fridge and any type of beans or pasta shape that you have in the cupboard.
Ingredients (serves 4-6) 100g (about 6 rashers) streaky bacon 1 white onion 2 medium carrots 2 celery sticks 2 garlic cloves 1 tsp tomato puree 1.5l vegetable stock 1 tin or carton of chopped tomato 6-8 large cavolo nero leaves 100g spaghetti 1 tin cannellini beans Olive oil Salt and pepper
Optional topping suggestions: basil pesto, grated parmesan, chopped basil, chopped parsley, croutons
Method 1. Chop the bacon into small pieces.
2. Finely chop the onion and garlic, thinly slice the celery and dice the carrot.
Fry altogether in the remaining bacon fat (topped up with a little olive oil if necessary) for 10 minutes until soft.
There is something utterly intoxicating about the smell of fresh pesto: the fragrant scents of basil and pine nut oil, mixing with the heady smell of garlic and the pungency of parmesan is enough to drive me c-razy. I really think I could eat an entire batch with a spoon, straight from the blender container. Spread it on some toasted sourdough and top with cherry tomatoes: divine. Stir it through fresh pasta and sprinkle with extra parmesan: I’m in food heaven. Obviously you can use whatever pasta you like – fresh egg pasta from the shop or just dried store-cupboard pasta. But if you’re feeling like a real treat then you can follow my recipe for homemade pasta dough. I cut the pasta on the thinnest setting, because it reminds me of the fresh pasta that my parents would always buy from a local Italian deli when we had fresh pesto for dinner, and that makes me happy.
To call this a recipe is really a gross exaggeration. We’re basically grabbing a pile of ingredients and letting the blender do all the work. I’ve given you the rough quantities that I used in our pesto on Sunday, but there’s no right answer here and it can change from batch to batch. This is my mum’s recipe and her classic answer to a question about quantities is “some”, which tells you all you need to know about making pesto. You can make your pesto personal to your own taste by adjusting the amounts of all the different flavours after the first blend. You can even go fancy and toast the pine nuts or add other green leaves like rocket, but in my opinion this is the best version of pesto. Ever. Keep it simple folks.
The only secret here is good quality ingredients: use the best olive oil and parmesan that you have or can afford and it will lift the flavour of the pesto by an unimaginable amount. You will need a surprising amount of basil leaves, and so it’s probably most economical to buy a couple of plants from the supermarket, cut most of the leaves off to use in the first batch, but keep enough on the plant so that you can water it and bring it back to life: hey presto, pesto all summer!
Ingredients (makes a generous serving for 4) Basil leaves from 2 – 2½ plants (or 2-3 small bunches of basil) 3 small handfuls of pine nuts 2 small handfuls of grated parmesan 3 crushed garlic cloves 4-6 tbsp good quality olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
Method 1. Cut the leaves from the basil plant, or from the stalks if you are using bunches of picked basil. Squash the leaves inside the blender container and top with the pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, olive oil and a generous amount of seasoning.
2. Blend until smooth. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust as you like.
Use on the day of making, or you can put it in a jar or tupperware container, drizzle the surface with olive oil and store in the fridge for at least a week.
We had the pesto with my homemade tagliolini, and a simple green salad. With a bottle of wine and some lovely company, it was the perfect Sunday dinner.
Do you have your own pesto recipe? What do you do differently?