To top it off…


During dinner at Ristorante Pesto several weeks ago, it occurred to me that pesto, the delicious raw sauce from Genoa, is not just for pasta anymore. When this thick sauce made with fragrant basil, olive oil, garlic, pine nuts and parmesan cheese is thinned with a bit of stock or white wine, it can enhance anything, including vegetables, fish and fowl.

Although pesto is made with basil and pine nuts, a rich ground sauce prepared with different ingredients would be just as tasty. Parsley, cilantro, baby arugula leaves and baby spinach leaves could be substituted for the basil. Walnuts or macadamia nuts could be used in place of pine nuts.

Summer is the time for easy cooking. Simply light the grill, drizzle some olive oil over thick filets of fish or chicken, prepare a rich sauce, add a green salad and corn on the cob and you have dinner.

Roasted red pepper sauce also enhances grilled or poached chicken or fish. I always have large jars of roasted peppers on hand in my pantry. Any number of ingredients, such as garlic, tiny capers, an anchovy or two, and some parsley or basil would constitute a delicious sauce.

Now that tomatoes are bursting ripe, I make raw tomato sauce for topping hot pasta or grilled chicken or fish.

The complimentary antipasto served to my husband Edward and me at Ristorante Pesto was a dish of room-temperature potatoes that were tossed in a mixture of ground basil and olive oil. A scattering of whole pine nuts was also added. This dish was so simply delicious, I wanted to prepare it at home.

Here are easy recipes for summer.

Pesto Potatoes


4 large Yukon gold or red bliss potatoes, cut into cubes
Handful fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Scattering of pine nuts


Place the potatoes in a large pot. Cover with cold water, bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 10-15 minutes. Test for doneness after 10 minutes. Do not overcook the potatoes. Drain well, run cold water over the potatoes and drain again. Place the potatoes in a plastic container.

Place the basil and olive oil in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse on and off a few times. Scrape the mixture down from the sides of the bowl and pulse a few times more. You want a creamy but slightly rough sauce. Place the mixture in a bowl and add kosher salt and pepper.

Pour the basil sauce over the potatoes and blend well. Scatter on the pine nuts. Cover the container and place in the refrigerator overnight.

Serves four to six.

From The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan


2 cups fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed and peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan
2 tablespoons freshly grated Romano pecorino
3 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature


Put the basil, olive oil, pine nuts, garlic and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process, stopping from time to time to scrape down the mixture from the sides of the bowl.

When the ingredients are evenly blended, pour into a bowl and beat in the two grated cheeses by hand. When the cheese has been evenly incorporated into the other ingredients, beat in the softened butter.

Before spooning pesto over pasta, add to it a tablespoon or two of the hot water in which the pasta was cooked.

Serves six.

Note from Phyllis: If you are using pesto for chicken, vegetables or fish, add a tablespoon or two of stock or white wine. Hazan writes that "in Genoa, they use equal quantities of parmesan cheese and of a special, mildly tangy Sardinian cheese made of sheep’s milk. The Romano pecorino cheese available here is considerably sharper than Sardo pecorino. A well-rounded pesto is never made with all parmesan cheese or all pecorino. The old traditional recipes do not mention pine nuts or butter. But modern pesto invariably includes them." When Hazan wrote this book 27 years ago, cheese from Sardinia was hard to come by. I would not be surprised if stores such as DiBruno Bros., Claudio’s and the cheese shop in the Reading Terminal Market stock pecorino from Sardinia.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce


2 (16-ounce) jars roasted red peppers, drained and sliced into strips
1/2 cup olive oil
Small handful basil leaves, baby arugula, parsley or baby spinach leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process, stopping from time to time to scrape the sauce down from the sides of the bowl. Taste and correct for seasoning. Red pepper sauce is delicious with grilled chicken and fish.

Serves four to six.

Note from Phyllis: This free-form recipe could also include a tablespoon of baby capers, two cloves of garlic, two white anchovies and a bit of sweet Vidalia or purple onion.

Raw Tomato Sauce


6 large ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1 small red onion, coarsely chopped
Small handful basil leaves, snipped with scissors
Juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


Place the tomatoes in a stainless steel, glass or ceramic bowl. Sprinkle on the kosher salt and allow to stand for about 30 minutes. Drain the tomatoes well, using a spoon to press out the excess juices. Add the remaining ingredients to the raw tomato sauce and blend well. Taste and correct for seasoning.

Serves four.

Note from Phyllis: This raw tomato sauce is delicious spooned over hot pasta or as a topping for grilled chicken or fish.

Basil Sauce for Cold Beef
From Food for Friends by Barbara Kafka


2 cups packed basil leaves
1-1/2 cups olive oil
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
8 ounces shelled walnut pieces
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1/3 cup Gorgonzola
4 teaspoons kosher salt


Place all the ingredients in the bowl of the food processor and process until smooth. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use. This will allow the flavors to blend.

Serves six.

Note from Phyllis: Kafka writes this sauce is exceptionably good on poached filet of beef that has cooled to room temperature. I think it would also be good with leftover grilled beef such as flank steak, filet mignon, rib steak or sirloin strip.