There are a handful of Italian ingredients and/or dishes that led me wandering toward the chef path – basil pesto is one those.
My first trip to Italy was with my family the summer after my junior year in high school. We flew into Milan and then made a winding and weary drive up to our first stop which was Lake Como. I do not do well with winding car rides. In fact I do terribly with such car rides. We went straight to dinner and the room was spinning. Then the pasta hit the table.
I think the aroma alone may have cured my motion sickness that night. The noodles were handmade, tender, and simply dressed with the condimento, in this case – pesto. The texture of the noodle, the brightness of the pesto, the fact that something so simple with so few ingredients could be so incredible, I had never tasted anything like this in my life.
The reason this dish had such an impact on me was because it exemplified everything that Italian cuisine was that American cooking, or even Italian American cooking wasn’t. A small amount of high quality ingredients, carefully crafted with a light hand, transforming something extremely simple into a flavor bomb.
When I returned home that summer I went straight to the store, picked up some basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmigiano reggiano, olive oil, and busted out my parents’ food processor. This may have been the first time I had ever used a food processor. This may have been the first time I had prepared anything from scratch.
In those days I was tossing the pesto with store-bought penne pasta. Although it was amazing and I couldn’t believe what I was creating at the time, it wasn’t comparable to the tender, fresh, egg noodles I had experienced in Italy. It wasn’t until a few years later that I purchased my first hand crank pasta machine and attempted the real deal – and once I got hooked there was no turning back.
Long before I opened a restaurant that served fresh pasta I’ve always loved making pasta at home. When I was rolling out the sheets of pasta on the machine Preston thought it was absolutely hilarious. I can’t wait for the time when he and Chloe are old enough to get their hands dirty and start kneading some dough (and most likely coating the entire kitchen with a nice dusting of flour). If you’re in to the idea of making pasta at home the Kitchen Aid mixer with pasta attachments is going to make it super easy.
I couldn’t tell you if it is purely nostalgia or if fresh noodles with pesto are really as good as I claim them to be – all I know is that I have eaten A LOT of pasta over the years, from Michelin starred spots in the states to countryside treasures in Italy – yet it always seems to be dishes like Fazzoletti (handkerchiefs) with Basil Pesto that satisfy the soul more than all the others.