A Taste of the Mediterranean: Pesto! Pesto! Pesto!
Let's take a culinary excursion to Europe and explore the northern Mediterranean coast while sampling all the good eats available in the region. We'll start in the Cinque Terre in the Liguria region of Italy where pesto was invented. It's autumn, so the tomatoes are at their full ripeness, the local basil harvest is in, and there is an abundance of freshly-made pesto available everywhere — what a great excuse to indulge in a pesto feast with some local Italian wines. Next, we'll head to the Greek island of Santorini where we'll enjoy the ultimate sunset meze dinner of Greek classics. Lastly, we'll head to the Sants-Montjuic neighborhood in Barcelona for an evening-long tasting of small plates as we crawl from one tapas bar to another.
In this "deep dive" series, we'll sample a full range of Mediterranean treats as we move from country to country. You'll be introduced to the traditional flavor profiles of each region and learn the subtle differences between each cuisine. By the end of the series, you'll be able to make anything taste Italian, Spanish, or Greek.
Harkening back to ancient Roman times, garlic, cheese, and herbs have been pounded into a paste which eventually evolved into the modern version of pesto — a raw sauce that demands the freshest of ingredients. Tonight, we'll be making a large batch of pesto from scratch using fresh farmer's market basil, fresh garlic, and Italian extra virgin olive oil. We'll use our fresh pesto sauce in a variety of dishes for the ultimate Italian Mediterranean feast paired with tastings of imported Italian wines plus a glass of limoncello for dessert.
Makes 2 cups
- Add olive oil, garlic, and pine nuts to the blender; blend until smooth (optional: saute garlic briefly in olive oil before blending).
- Add Parmesan cheese and salt, and blend until smooth.
- Add basil leaves, and blend until smooth (optional: blanch basil before blending, or drop a couple of ice cubes into the blender while blending).
- Store refrigerated in a glass jar (tip: top with extra olive oil to seal the pesto).
- On a large platter, pour 1/4 cup olive oil and let it spread.
- Assemble the salad on top of the oiled platter by alternating mozzarella cheese slice, 1 teaspoon pesto, basil leaf, and tomato slice: repeat.
- Drizzle with olive oil.
- Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Garnish with balsamic reduction.
- Transfer portions of the salad to smaller plates for serving: drizzle with additional olive oil as desired.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
- Defrost pizza dough in the refrigerator; bring to room temperature for about 2 hours before making the pie.
- Dust a work surface with flour.
- Stretch pizza dough into a 10-inch pie.
- Sprinkle a pizza stone with cornmeal and transfer the pie onto the stone.
- Layer mozzarella cheese slices over the pie.
- Spread garlic slices evenly over the cheese.
- Bake for 12 minutes.
- Spoon pesto on top of cheese, and spread with a basting brush.
- Sprinkle chopped tomatoes on top of the pesto.
- Dust with grated cheese.
- Slice the pie into 6 slices, and garnish each slice with one fresh basil leaf.
- Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper.
- Boil the pasta in salted water, remove and drain 3 minutes before it reaches al dente (approximately 7-10 minutes).
- Run cold water over the pasta to stop it from cooking further; set aside (or store cooked pasta covered in ice water for up to 12 hours in the refrigerator).
- In a covered pot, steam the mussels in a little water until the shells open; discard any mussels that do not open; set aside.
- Melt the butter in a large saucepan, add the shrimp and cook until pink (approx 1 minute), flip and repeat, remove contents to a large bowl and set aside.
- Using the same saucepan, add the mixed seafood, cover and steam until done (approx 3 minutes).
- Drain steaming liquid into a separate bowl and set aside; add seafood to the same bowl as the shrimp, set aside (optional: cover and keep warm in a 150° oven).
- Make the sauce: add olive oil and garlic to the same saucepan, saute briefly (approx 1 minute).
- Add white wine, tomatoes, 1 cup of the steaming liquid; bring to a boil to reduce liquid (approx 1 minute).
- Adjust the seasoning: add shrimp bouillon, salt, and pepper to taste.
- Add the pasta to the sauce; finish cooking the pasta in the sauce over high heat, stir constantly until the pasta is al dente; turn off heat.
- Stir in the pesto and toss; transfer the pasta with sauce to serving plates.
- Reheat the seafood with a little bit of the steaming liquid (if needed).
- Top the pasta with the seafood mix.
- Sprinkle with extra grated parmesan cheese, garnish with basil leaves, finish with freshly ground black pepper (if desired).
- Brush eggplant slices with olive oil.
- Grill first side of eggplant for about 10 minutes.
- Brush other side of eggplant with olive oil and flip.
- Top each eggplant round with one tomato slice (choose appropriate size of tomato slice to match each eggplant slice).
- Top each round with 1-2 tablespoons of pesto.
- Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
- Grill for another 10 minutes until eggplant is cooked and the cheese has melted.
- Or: broil in oven instead and adjust timing accordingly.