Let’s dig a little deeper into Columbus Day, shall we? Any day’s a good day to eat Italian, but back when Cristoforo Colombo was setting sail for the New World, there wasn’t any such thing as a unified Italy. Colombo (his Italian name) was a citizen of The Most Serene Republic of Genoa, an independent state, roughly equivalent to the modern region of Liguria, from 1005 to 1797.
So to really celebrate Columbus Day, one would partake of the cuisine of Liguria and its capital, Genoa.
The undisputed star of Ligurian cooking is pesto, the herb-nut-cheese sauce that is most traditionally made with basil, pine nuts and either Parmesan or pecorino, or both. But it can be made with almost any tender herb and almost any nut. (One of my favorites is walnut-parsley pesto.)
Most Italian restaurants have pesto on their menus. Not surprisingly, it's a specialty at La Piccolo Liguria in Port Washington. But if you'd like to make it at home, here’s a good recipe, adapted from Colman Andrews’ “Flavors of the Riviera” (Bantam Books, $ 24.95).
PESTO ALLA GENOVESE
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
3 tablespoon pine nuts
2 tightly packed cups basil leaves (1 large bunch)
2/3 cup Parmesan
1/3 cup Pecorino Sardo or Romano
1/4 to 1/2 cup good extra-virgin olive oil
Place all ingredients, using 1/4 cup olive oil, in blender and puree until smooth. Scrape into bowl and add more olive oil to achieve desired consistency. Makes about 1 cup.
Whether you make your own, or use store-bought, remember never to cook pesto; it looses all its freshness. Drain your pasta, reserving a cup or so of pasta-cooking liquid, then mix in the pesto, thinning it out with a little of the pasta water if necessary.