Wednesday, 31 July 2013 Italian classic, best made at home!

Image by Fiona Rigby - pesto ingredients

We love Italy at Authentic Adventures.....

We've had a wonderful year selling many, many holidays in Italy - it's an ever popular destination. Our clients never tire of the beauty of the country, our wonderful guides and tutors, and of course the food. Personally, I'm a lifelong fan of Mediterranean food in general, particularly salsa verde and pesto, made with fresh herbs (lots of them) and local additions. Pesto, now a staple food cupboard jar, was once unfamiliar and appeared in Britain around the 80's - we all know it's not the real thing, but who can be bothered to make it for themselves? Well it's worth the effort - an easy quick mix in the blender and 'hey pesto', a sauce for, not only pasta, but fish, meat and salads. A blast of Italy straight to the tastebuds. If you're lucky enough to be one of our clients joining our first Cooking Holiday to Lecce in Puglia this year, you'll undoubtedly have the chance to not only sample, but probably make a version of this pesto recipe. The magical thing with Italian cooking is that it's not just regional, every 'Mamma' has her own version - it doesn't just belong in Genoa. There are walnut ones from the North, tomato and almond ones from Sicily. There are global versions too - Thai style and Mexican, but I'm a purist - they're not for me. My flat mate in Pisa, Cristina, used to make an eye wateringly potent version using lots of tiny chilli's - pepperoncino - birds eye chilli's. I grew to love it.

Patience Gray quotes in her well known book 'Honey from a Weed', "Pounding fragrant things - particularly garlic, basil, parsley - is a tremendous antidote to depression..." All of your home-made versions of pesto will last in the fridge for a few days covered in cling film. You can pound, or you can whizz in a blender - it's up to you. But remember what Patience Gray said about the pleasure of demolishing the ingredients in a pestle and mortor - cathartic! Best way to serve: spread onto lighted toasted focaccia with a drizzle of olive oil.

Mint & Almond pesto

60g toasted almonds
4 cloves garlic
80g mint leaves
40g flat leaf parsley
3 tsp runny honey
juice of a lemon
300ml extra virgin olive oil

Put all the ingredients, except for the olive oil, in a food processor, season and blitz to a puree while adding a steady stream of oil. Check the seasoning and transfer to a bowl with a thin layer of oil over the top. Job done. Weights as above are never followed - better calculated in 'bunches' and 'handfuls' of wonderful herbs.

Calabrian pesto

3 tbsp. olive oil
1 large red pepper, halved, deseeded and diced
half a small onion, very finely chopped
50g of aubergine, diced
1 plum tomato, halved, deseeded and chopped
1 clove of garlic, chopped
generous pinch of dried chilli flakes
60g ricotta cheese
40g blanched almonds
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
10g basil

Heat the oil in the pan, add the pepper and onion, cook until slightly caramalised. Add the aubergine, cook for a further 10 mins. Add tomato, garlic and chilli flakes, cook and stir until soft. Scrape everything into a food processor with the ricotta, almonds, extra-virgin olive oil and some seasoning and puree. Add the basil and pulse. Check seasoning. Transfer to a bowl, cover with clingfilm and more olive oil and store in the fridge.

Buon apetito!

Our Cooking Holiday brochure will be available in mid-September - be quick to book - limited places available. You will be cooking orechiette (little ears, speciality of Puglia), sagne n'cannulate and taralli......!

Details coming soon on our website....