Victor on Marcella’s Pesto

This post was written by Victor Hazan and originally published on Facebook.

Marcella’s Pesto. The original components ought to be familiar to anyone who has made this rustic sauce. Basil (I clipped the leaves of two different varieties growing in Marcella’s herb garden), a mild olive oil (ours, like pesto itself, comes from Liguria, by way of Gustiamo), garlic (from Washington State, not China), freshly grated pecorino cheese (we use Fulvi’s), and Parmigiano-Reggiano (red cow Parmesan), pine nuts (Tuscan, also from Gustiamo). Is that all there is? No, wait! There is something else in the picture, Vermont Creamery’s cultured butter. Butter in pesto? How could that be? Did Marcella lose her bearings? Every year for the past forty-three, since she first published the recipe for pesto, in 1973, the Defenders of Authenticity have castigated her for the transgression. Most of them had never been to Liguria, few as often and for as long as Marcella. When we lived in Milan, Liguria was our Caribbean, when Spring still hesitated to come to the city, it was in bloom on the Riviera. We hastened there to spend many sweet weekends, and rented a place where we could stay on vacation. One of the friends we made was Giuseppe Gavotti, the chancellor of Italy’s Accademia della Cucina, a Genoese aristocrat. It was he who got Marcella to add a pat of butter to pesto. Marcella was surprised. “But Beppe, she said, no one else I know uses butter.” “Only the ones who don’t want to spend the money for it”, Gavotti replied. With or without butter, pesto is genius. A small amount of butter, however, swirled into it at the end, puts a gloss on it, gives it a pleasing fullness. There are those who approve and those who do not. Those who have tried it, like it. Victor.

August 29, 2015
Photo by Victor Hazan

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