piero's sun dried tomato pesto pasta
Instead of populating the world with more resource hogging American babies,¹ part
through our peculiar life circumstances and the rest by subsequent choice, and by sharing
a single almost sensible traditional passenger car, the ani and bob show realized as it
was cruising into/through middle age that it was not entirely (at least financially) insane
to take advantage of winter airfare bargains when airlines practically give away
transatlantic tickets and do long weekend vacations in Europe. Ani being an American wage
slave with precious few annual vacation days, a chunk of which are usually reserved to
meeting bob during his academic summer visits to Rome, just never has the time to do real
European vacations. [Dare we admit this in public? Okay, we're still guilty of abusing the
world with our middle class lifestyle.] So with Philadelphia's direct European destination
list growing, our winter flight choices have broadened considerably.
Munich was a logical choice. bob had spent 9 months living in its Schwabing
neighborhood at the beginning of the eighties when there was still a "West"
Germany officially, and as the millennium was approaching, our Roman
astronomer/astrophysicist friend Piero was working at the European Southern Observatory (ESO) headquarters right next to the Max-Planck-Institüt für Astrophysik in the
suburb village of Garching where nonastrophysicist dr bob had been a guest, now connected
to the city center by subway. Allowing us to easily buzz on out to Piero's place for our
parting Saturday night dinner. The bus driver helped us get off at the right stop in town
minutes from the end of the U6 line, and a pizza
place person helped us find his apartment building address. All in English. German
bob confesses that he was not entirely confident of Piero's ability to deliver on this
dinner thing. So when the mascarpone-filled avocado halves came forward followed by the
terrific pesto pasta made with the Braun super hand blender system we'd helped him decide
to buy earlier that day, bob was really impressed, as were Helene the Dutch-Brit colleague
and Gordon the Canadian collaborator from Bezerkeley, another old stomping ground of dr
bob before the prefix got added. (dr.) And of course Ani the Lebanese Armenian cooking
team partner. We're apparently hopeless internationalists. The pesto had been an earlier
improvisation of Piero in when he was closer to us back in America, perhaps influenced by
Annette the Scotch Canadian astrophysicist companion, now in England, an annoying commute.
The old dual career couple problem. Anyway, enough of this culture name dropping. This
pesto recipe will be the one concrete reminder of our Munich trip that will linger on with
us the remainder of our culinary days.
By coincidence Ani's Israeli colleagues Penina and Binyamin had had a bumper crop of
tomatoes the preceding summer, the surplus product of which they had had the good sense to
convert to sun dried form. A bit of which found its way into our supply cabinet due to
their generosity. Waiting for some idea of what to do with it. International kitchen
collaboration to the max.
We are regular pesto feeders. We make a big batch and freeze the extra. Comes in handy
when a quick supper fix is required. Our recipe guidelines were set by Anne Willan's Look and Cook Perfect Pasta Sauce from her every recipe
step, ingredient and kitchen tool fully photographed cookbook series, modified by Marcella's 1/3 Romano cheese substitution to give it more
bite, supported by our Italian cooking library sources. Piero used linguini but we had not
long pasta on hand, so we stuck with our usual fusilli standard initiated by Anne's
¹Okay, we admit it, it's a dirty job and somebody has to do it. Just not us.
We like kids though. Are we excused?
- pesto minus cheese
- 1 c tightly packed basil leaves (1 large "bunch") [okay, so we never packed
them into a cup to check]
- 2/3 c olive oil
- 3 T pine nuts
- 5 cloves garlic [we're garlic lovers]
- 10 sun dried tomatoes, plus 2-3 T soaking water
- add the cheese
- 2/3 c parmigiano
- 1/2 c romano
- finish with
- salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper on servings
- don't forget the pasta
- 1 lb fusilli or linguini
- Start the pasta water boiling. Continue with the pesto process but throw in the pasta
(and some salt) when the water is actively boiling.
- Boil up water in a teapot and use it to just cover about 10 sun dried tomatoes in a bowl
with boiling water and cover with a plate. Let sit about 15 minutes. Or boil the sun dried
tomatoes directly for 5 minutes or so if you're in a hurry. [We started out with 5
tomatoes the slow way, but finding the resulting color factor not sufficiently in the red
zone, we hurriedly readied 5 more the fast way.]
- Wash and dry the basil in a salad spinner and pull off the leaves from the larger
- Food process the pine nuts, garlic, and a little oil, then add in the rest oil and basil
and process, and then add in the sundried tomatoes and runoff water and process, and then
the cheeses and process. Use a spatula to push the pesto down from the sidewalls when
- When the pasta is al dente (check), drain it and vigorously mix in about half the pesto
sauce. You only want the slightest hint of sauce to coat all of the pasta surfaces, so no
globs are left visible. Freeze the rest of the sauce for another pound of pasta another
night. Check for salt and add some if necessary. A minimum sprinkling is probably
warranted unless serious health issues are at stake.
- For some reason the sun dried tomatoes really give pesto an extra kick worth the
additional effort. However, if you are in a traditional pesto mood, just double the basil
back to the normal amount and skip the sun dried tomatoes. Tomatoes? Tomatos? Looks like
there is a little Dan Quale in all of us now, because the extra ``e" there looks
funny to me. In fact it looks funny either way now. English!
- The butter factor. Several other pesto recipes suggested putting 2 T of room temperature
softened butter in the hot drained pasta and mixing it up before adding the pesto. Maybe
it lubricates the pasta to help spread out the pesto? We were a bit worried with our
initial pesto glob in the pastait did not want to deglobso we had to add some
more oil and tomato liquid to loosen the rest up a bit.
- The veggie manual dicer/slicer. bob bought his from a street vendor in 1980 in the
central Munich shopping pedestrian mall. Still there in 1998 when another buy took place
for the mother-in-law. Useful little device, and ecologically sound. Until it ends up in a
- Did we forget Hans and Hortense? German-Portuguese couple we met by chance in Munich's
famous Hofbräuhaus (beer hall and low brow restaurant). Talked for hours. They missed out
on Piero's gourmet dinner because they thought they might be out of place in a gathering
of old friends. Their mistake. [But bob undertook a missing person search for Hortense's
dear American Peace Corps friend Janice met in Niger a dozen years before but lost track
of in a later relocation back in the states. Small world, but still big enough to get lost
- About the avocados. [No "e" here! Don't ask why.] Cut the ripe avocado in half
lengthwise. De-pit it. Rub a few drops of olive oil on the exposed flesh of the avocado.
Fill the pit hole with mascarpone cheese (not!). You can mound it up a bit over the rest of
the exposed interior as well, so that you can get a bit of mascarpone with each bite.
Don't do this too often but at least once is a must. [Not!, since it is not really
cheese.] Thank Piero.