I don't remember my first taste of pesto, but I know my husband is a longtime fan. Maybe it's the Italian roots on his dad's side (Valentine was Valentini just a few generations ago), but Danny was likely one of the only kids in his elementary school toting a lunch box filled with pasta coated in homemade pesto. His dad tells me he insisted on this for lunch just about every day. For the record, 9-year-old me was unwrapping a standard turkey sandwich on whole wheat.
The reason my husband is such a fan of this green sauce is because his father, Rich, has been making it for decades. He has packed countless jars with pesto made with basil from his backyard garden. At any time, there are several jars in their freezer at home in Iowa.
"Stuff lasts forever," he tells me, in response to a photo I texted of my own batch of pesto. "Was used by Roman legions on war campaigns for that reason except you could smell them coming. Really."
Indeed, this pesto is super fragrant. And I can't help eating it by the spoonful.
A classic pesto usually calls for basil, pine nuts, olive oil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, garlic and salt. But you can make pesto with nearly any combination of greens and nuts.
I recently ordered and loved the bianca pizza at Noble Crust in St. Petersburg, which caught my eye because of its use of pistachio pesto. After weeks went by and I still couldn't get that pizza out of my mind, I set out to make my own version.
To go with the fresh green sauce base, add fresh peas. A smattering of whole pistachios lets people know what they're eating and adds crunch. The pizza that inspired me features fresh mozzarella and ricotta, which you can use here, but I decided to go for burrata — fresh mozzarella stuffed with cream.
We usually have a jar or two of Rich's pesto around since my in-laws occasionally bring some when they visit Florida. Now with my own recipe for pesto and a humble basil plant growing in our back yard, my freezer may start to fill up with pesto, too. And on my next trip to the Midwest, I'll have a couple of jars to give to Rich.
Ileana Morales Valentine lives in St. Petersburg with her husband. For more of their kitchen stories, visit her blog, ALittleSaffron.com. Say hello at [email protected]