Friday, August 28, 2009



“What,” pondered Peter Piper in his parlor, “shall I make with all this stuff?”

When was the first time I tasted pesto? I truly can’t remember. As you recall, I grew up in a small, engineer-friendly town in the shadow of NASA’s rockets, daughter of the Space Age, raised on the new-fangled and the packaged. Whether boxed, canned or frozen, it was all homely fare, nothing gourmet. Our part of the planet seemed to be utterly untouched by The French Chef or The Galloping Gourmet, even though we religiously watched them on tv. It was as if we lived in some closed-off, pod-like culinary community only receiving the ultramodern, faddish inventions of the food industry, products and ideas meant to recreate a real, homey, old fashioned atmosphere, modernize it for our (read: our mom’s) convenience and bring it right to the dinner table.

Pesto was worlds away from the creamed chicken and noodles, the tv dinners and the jarred tomato sauce. What passed for Parmesan cheese came in a green shaker can, basil I had only ever heard of on British tv and pine nuts…. pine nuts?

Basil Fawlty?

We grew up thinking that pasta was either those cans of kid-friendly O’s or squiggles of mushy pasta shapes smothered in tomato-y or cheesy sauce, chemicals galore (but we loved ‘em anyway, didn’t we?) or the pasta we got at home, spaghetti tossed with mom’s sauce (jar? can?) and served up with dry (sorry mom) meatballs. The occasional dinner out at Rocco’s Italian Restaurant down in that mini strip mall on A1A opened my eyes to what could really be Italian food, thick ruby-red sauce blanketing angel’s hair pasta or golden fried eggplant slices, all served to us on those red-and-white checkered tablecloths, the traditional candle stuck in the Chianti bottle as centerpiece. But still no pesto. The Italian food we saw in the states (or maybe just where I lived) was quintessentially Southern Italian brought over from Naples how many generations ago, rich and filling, heavy on the pizzas and red sauce, the experience somewhat “Disneyized” for the American public.

Maybe I had my first taste of pesto at my oh-so-cosmopolitan cousin’s apartment in New York City in those heady years after college, small town girl trying to get it right in the big city, living on slave wages and taking culinary refuge in his chic Manhattan apartment whenever I could. Or was it my brother, gourmet that he was, who introduced me to the magic that is pesto? In Italy? I truly don’t remember, but I do know that I’m nuts about the stuff. The rich flavor of pesto, both delicate and sharp, both tangy and smooth, pure elegance.

Pesto green - what elegance!

I buy pesto by the jar, an Italian brand, of course, because my sons, gourmand and food-aware as they are in their lively, multi-cultured world, eat it by the spoonful, would eat it every day if they could. But last week, JP came to me and pointed at the beautiful, lush kitchen garden he had planted for me and said “You must do something with all of that basil or it’s going to rot and the plant won’t grow anymore.” So homemade pesto it was. So easy to make I wondered aloud why it was that I had never made it before, why I didn’t make it regularly? Well I know that the ingredients can be pricey, but oh is the outcome worth it! So I decided to serve Pasta al Pesto one night and make Pesto Swirl Buns the next as I had leftover pizza dough in the refrigerator. Fabulous!

Did someone call for Green?

I must admit that for the photos I did use an excellent quality jarred pesto for the Pesto Swirl Buns, but I so wanted these for dinner and I wanted to show you what great things can be made with pesto, either homemade when you have it, jarred when you don’t. The Buns I am sending over to Susan of Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting, her weekly All Things Yeast event.

A classic

2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 to 4 cloves garlic
½ cup pine nuts
¼ tsp salt or to taste (don’t skimp as this brings out the flavor of the other ingredients)
1/3 cup olive oil

Place all the ingredients in a blender and whiz until smooth. Add more cheese, garlic or salt as desired to taste.

Makes 1 jelly jar full.

For 4 people

1 lb (500 g) dried spaghetti

Make the pasta as directed on the package. Drain and place into a large serving bowl. Toss in the pesto (if you like, you can warm the pesto first).

Serve with additional grated Parmesan cheese. I like to serve this with a fresh tomato salad, a loaf of fresh Italian bread and a good red wine.


Bread Dough (I used about ½ - ¾ of my pizza dough : see recipe here)
1 pot pesto

Allow the dough to rest at room temperature if it has been in the fridge. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough into a long rectangle about ½-inch (1 cm) thick. Mine may have been about a foot long or a bit longer.

Spread the pesto evenly all over the dough coming all the way to the edges except for the far edge. Roll the dough up lengthwise as tight as possible. Slice into 1 ¼ to 1 ½ inch (3 – 4 cm) wide pieces. Lay cut side up slightly space apart in a parchment lined baking tin. Allow to rest 15 – 30 minutes (they should rise and spread out a bit).

Preheat the oven to 425°F (225°C). Lightly dab the surface of the buns (the dough part not the pesto) with an egg wash (beaten egg) and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes until puffed up and lightly browned all over the surface.

Best eaten warm, but these were fabulous for two days after they came out of the oven, re-warmed or eaten at room temp!


Audax said...

Boston is as Boston does: layers of softness, delicate and light, surrounding a heart of cool sweetness, silky and beautifully tempered, the whole draped in a dark, bittersweet coat, strong yet gentle. what a wonderful post and love your dog so cute.

The pesto rolls are wonderous and you are so lucky to have some growing outside basil that is - it is so expensive in Australia $3 for a small bunch so I grow my own now. So I can make pesto anytime more or less. Love all the green and basil pictures in the post. Cheers from Audax in Australia. You are one smart cookie from all the 'in' jokes scattered all over the post Peter Piper picked..... and so on. Audaxa

Elra said...

Oh MG, I remember watching that show long time ago, it's my husband favorite show. He even bought the DVD.

What a coincidence that he (and our son) also love pesto. Hmm, that is fantastic idea using for the rolls. You are a good cook indeed!

girlichef said...

oh my goodnes...that is some beautiful, savory deliciousness! They look amazing...and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE Fawlty of the funniest shows EVER!

Jamie said...

@Elra - I have al of Fawlty Towers on video cassette and audio cassette and the book of all the scripts! I could sit and watch them all with your husband! And thanks for the compliment - coming from you that is great indeed!

@Audax - Welcome and thrilled that you like my blog, my jokes and my dog!

Kate said...

Ok, those pesto buns? I could eat a whole pan, I'm sure of it. How delicious looking!

In a few weeks the farmers markets will be overflowing with huge bunches of amazingly green and gorgeous basil. I usually buy an armful and make pesto that I freeze for the winter. We love it, many many ways.

And one of them will have to be those buns!

5 Star Foodie said...

Oh, wow! Your pesto swirl buns are amazing! I've never had those, would love to try! Gorgeous!

The Cooking Photographer said...

Jamie! Pesto buns are my daughter's favorite food from our local Co-Op and I never thought to make them at home!

I knew I loved you for a reason.

I enjoyed all the pictures and your story as always. Your childhood parallels mine so much so that reading your words brings back my own memories.


Jenn said...

Mmmm...pesto. I had to read the title more than once just to make sure I read it correctly. Talk about changing up an already twisted tongue twister.

I love pesto. i can't get enough of pesto. I'm going to give those swirl buns a go. Perfect for an afternoon snack.

Heavenly Housewife said...

Wow, you have managed to create quite a mouth watering duo! I want both!!! Great pictures!
p.s. hubby is a big fawlty towers fan
p.s.s. how do you manage to stay so slim, i don't get it.

La Table De Nana said...

That pesto bread? I have 2 daughters that will flip:) And a grandson that would love your green superhero:) Have a great weekend..

Katherine Aucoin said...

I would not have thought to put pesto in the buns. the swir buns are real eye catchers. Yes, I love pesto!

Amy said...

I don't think I had even heard of pesto until college. How sad is that? And I grew up outside San Francisco!

I love it, love it, love it. And I'm proud to say that both my 3YO and 16 month old prefer it to red sauce.

I grow basil so I can make fresh pesto and then freeze it for the winter months.

...and now I have another reason to use it. Those buns look SO delish.

The Cooking Photographer said...

We're adding these to pizza night tonight! I have lots of extra help in the kitchen this evening and thought these would be a great addition.

KennyT said...

WOW, another yummy pesto! I've bookmarked this and I will make my own version, yay!! Thanks for sharing.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

If Peter Piper picked a peck of... ;-P!

Those buns look fantastic! What a great creation!



Mary said...

The buns and pasta both sound delicious . The photos can be used to attest to that in a court of law. Another great job!

Linda said...

I am crazy about pesto! This post is great...and I love those pesto buns. I am going to try this!!

Chef Jeena said...

Looks really tasty just like comfort food to me.

I chuckled at Basil Faulty. :-)

Katy ~ said...

I have never eaten pesto.

I must eat pesto!

I must eat pesto buns!

burpandslurp said...

Scandalous that you haven't tried pesto in forever! That expression of the first pic you showed was classic, though. Cracked me right up! Hee heehee!
I've never thought abt using pesto into rolls, though, so this is amazing and you've sure redeemed yourself! ;-) said...

Okay, I am just so in love with your use of photo's. So clever; so amusing.

I think I forgot to read the post! Oh dear.

(Don't worry, I'll go back.)


mlaiuppa said...

I love pesto. The first time I made it I had no idea it would be so simple.

Since then I've learned that anything thing can be a pesto.

For a fresh change, try parsley pesto.

Sophie said...

I love making pesto, green, red or walnut pesto!!

Your pesto rolls look so tasty: wow!!!

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

Yum! I especially love the swirly buns, I am going to make some for my son next weekend.

Lynda said...

Oh my, I am so very hungry now... Those pesto buns and the pasta look amazing! I need an italian food fix!

Cinnamon Girl aka Reeni♥ said...

I am a serious pesto lover myself and seriously in love with those buns! Just out of this world delicious!!!

asiangrrl said...

Jamie, both dishes look delicious, and especially the pesto rolls. They look so light and fluffy and moist. Double yum!

the ungourmet said...

I'm with your sons! Once I start eating pesto it's almost impossible to stop. It's nectar of the gods I tell ya!

Chef E said...

Pesto pesto pesto just the name is even more wonderful are these pesto are amazing girl!

Susan/Wild Yeast said...

Pesto was foreign to me growing up also. When I discovered it in The Moosewood Cookbook I was instantly hooked. I don't think I realized it could be bought pre-prepared until we moved here to California. Such a wonderful summer treat!

The Cooking Photographer said...

We loved these Jamie. Thank-you for the recipe.

Stefanie said...

What a good idea!The rolls look great!

Bergamot said...

Looks really good. like the idea of pesto in the bread...

Madam Chow said...

Great post, and those pesto swirl buns look absolutely amazing.

Mindy said...

That pesto looks great! We've been getting tons of basil from our CSA, so I've been making pesto and freezing it (in my madeleine pan since I no longer have ice cube trays!)...I can't wait to have a taste of summer when it gets cold again.

And as you can tell, I'm finally catching up on my summer blog reading!


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