Diners at each of Mario Batali’s restaurants on Earth Day, April 22, received a complimentary packet of basil seeds. The herb is easy to grow in almost any climate and is rich in vitamin K, vitamin A, manganese and magnesium. After basil seeds are planted, they take just over a month to produce herbs you can use in this and many other summer dishes.
On the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, the U.S. Senate challenged Americans to confront our most urgent environmental issues and rally around a single message: that the success of future generations depends on how we act now and how we educate our young people. Earth Day is celebrated annually to call attention to environmental changes and the issues they pose to future generations.
In order to raise awareness of the issues that face our environment, all of my restaurants focused this spring on a single ingredient that can be planted in almost any climate in America: basil.
Genovese basil is the preferred variety when making pesto, especially in the northwesterly region of Liguria. Ligurians make a religion of their devotion to the herb. In a nod to the seafaring region, Chef Frank Langello prepared Corzetti with Pesto Genovese at my restaurant Babbo this Earth Day.
What we commonly think of as “pesto” is only one variety of the sauce. Pesto genovese is the basil pesto native to the Ligurian coast. The beauty of pesto genovese is that it’s a no-cook pasta sauce. Combine the basil, garlic and pine nuts in a food processor or with a mortar and pestle. Add Pargmigiano-Reggiano and olive oil, and mix to your desired consistency. A lot of people misconstrue pesto as a wet sauce. In my house (and at Babbo) it’s fairly dry. Thin it using the pasta cooking liquid to achieve your desired consistency.
You will note that I do not cook the pasta in the sauce as I have always suggested. In this case, I prefer the sauce to be completely raw, so be sure and the cook the pasta all the way, and be sure and toss the whole shebang in a warmed salad bowl and serve it immediately. It will never be piping hot, but in Liguria it never is.
3 Tablespoons pine nuts 2 Cups Genovese basil (may sub regular basil) 1 Garlic clove
• Pinch of sea salt
1/2 Cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus extra for sprinkling 3 Tablespoons grated
11/4 Cups extra virgin olive oil
3 1/2 Cups all-purpose flour 4 Extra-large eggs
1/2 Teaspoon extra virgin
• Semolina flour
2 Tablespoons salt
To make pesto, combine pine nuts, basil, garlic, and sea salt and process to a paste. Add the cheeses and drizzle in the olive oil. Store in a jar, topped with oil until ready to use. Makes 2 1/2 cups.
To make the corzetti, mound 3 1/2 cups of the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the eggs and the olive oil. using a fork, beat together the eggs and oil and begin to incorporate the flour, starting with the inner rim of the well.
As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up from the base of the mound to retain the well shape. The dough will come together when half of the flour is incorporated.
Start kneading the dough with both hands, using the palms of your hands. Once you have a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up and discard any leftover bits. Lightly re-flour the board and continue kneading for six more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Roll out the pasta dough to the thinnest setting on a pasta machine. using a hand stamp, cut out 2-inch circles. Place the corzetti on sheet trays that have been sprinkled with semolina flour and cover with a clean towel until ready to cook.
Bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil and add about 2 tablespoons of salt. Add corzetti and cook thoroughly, about 3 minutes or until they float.
Place 1 cup of the pesto in a warmed salad bowl. Drain the corzetti, reserving a little of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to the salad bowl and toss quickly but gently like a salad. Adjust the texture with the reserved pasta water if it seems too tight. Sprinkle with Parmigiano Reggiano and serve immediately.
Mario Batali is the owner of Babbo, Lupa, Otto and other renowned restaurants. His latest book is “Molto Batali,” published by Ecco.