The Perfect Pesto with Pasta Squares
October 1, 2009
[Elaine] in Chow, Farina, pesto

We've all made our share of pesto in the food processor and it's quick and delicious.  But when you watch this charming video of Chef Paolo Laboa of Farina, you will be tempted to try his authentic Genovese method of making pesto with "il cuore" - the heart.  When I heard Marcia Gagliardi of Tablehopper describe this dish of pasta in the video, I knew I had to try it - when Marcia raves about a dish, you know it has to be outstanding. But first I needed the real, authentic ingredients that Chef Laboa describes in the video.  This was no easy task.


First was the issue of the pine nuts.   Chef Laboa says that you need the real Italian pine nuts.  Well, aren't those pine nuts in the grocery store the same?  It turns out, they are not.  Almost all of the pine nuts that any of us have ever purchased are from China.  That's right.  The real pine nuts from the Mediterranean are much harder to find.  It took me a while but I did find an online source that had them, NutsonLine.  When I saw the price, however, for the real thing I understood why all those pine nuts in the grocery store are from China. I wanted to make this pesto, though, with all the ingredients that Farina uses, so I bought them.  Once.

Then came the olive oil.  Chef Laboa says that you need to use a light, Ligurian olive oil, not extra virgin olive oil because it "kills the flavor" of the basil.  After looking very, very carefully at the video and freeze framing, I was able to identify the olive oil he used.  It was Opera Prima from Liguria.  It was not as easy to actually find the oil, though.  There was only one source I found that had it -  

The basil was easy.  My farmer's market has a lot of beautiful basil and I also grow some myself.  So, armed with all the ingredients that Chef Laboa recommended and a great mortar and pestle, I made this pesto. 

 I ground the pine nuts and coarse salt together first and then slowly added the basil.  It definitely is a process to do it this way - a labor of love.  Then I slowly added the olive oil and finally, the parmesan cheese.  I could not get my pesto to become as creamy as Farina's, but maybe I did not grind it long enough.  I thought I had ground it about as long as I could, though!  But I will say that, without a doubt, this was the best pesto I've ever had.  The flavor was unlike any other pesto I've ever made.  It was worth it.   

One interesting note about the homemade pasta that Chef Laboa makes is that it contains a little white wine - something specific to Genoa.  I made my pasta this way, also.  The pasta is rolled into sheets and then simply cut into squares.

I give a recipe here, but it is only an estimate - the recipe is really about technique. You can adjust it the way you like it .   

Pasta Squares With the Perfect Pesto


for a printable recipe click here



For the pesto: In a the bowl of a mortar, place the pine nuts and coarse salt and start grinding.  Add the garlic and grind until a fine paste forms.  Scrape down the pesto with a spoon periodically.  Slowly add the basil leaves and grind until completely smooth.  Add the olive oil slowly and grind and then add the cheese last.  

For the  pasta: Place flour on workspace and make a well in the center.  Crack the eggs in the well and beat lightly with fork. Add white wine to beaten eggs and mix with the fork.   Slowly incorporate the flour with the fork until a dough forms.  Knead and add flour until the dough is not sticky any more.  This may take a little more flour - you need to just go by the feel of the dough.  Wrap in floured plastic and let rest at room temperature for 15 minutes.  Cut into thirds and take each piece and run it through pasta rollers on the widest setting.  Fold in thirds and run through several more times.  Adjust rollers to next thinnest setting and pass pasta through. Pass through until you get to the thickness you like - usually #5 or #6.  Lay pasta sheets on floured counter and cut into squares.  

If you do not want to make homemade pasta, you can buy lasagna noodles, boil them and then cut them into squares.

Assemble: Bring large pot of salted water to a boil.  Add pasta sheets and boil for just a couple of minutes.  In a cold skillet (not over any heat) add the pesto and just a little of the hot pasta water and stir.  Add the boiled pasta squares and toss gently.  Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle a little more olive oil and garnish with fresh basil.


Note:  If you don't know about "The Perfect" series published by Chow, you should.  Chow has a series of "The Perfect" - a video series of something that is "unparalleled - the best in show".   And they are worth watching - The Perfect Hamburger, The Perfect Martini. . . you get it.   Now watch it.  

Article originally appeared on The Italian Dish (
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