When I was in 8th grade I went on a pesto kick. I took pesto pasta to school for lunch every day for … a weirdly long time. (I get food kicks from my dad, whose obsessions have included, without limitation: grapefruit, Taco Bell, sushi, milk shakes, and seared tuna with arugula salad.) My dad shared my pesto kick way-back-when. He would buy those little jars of pre-made basil pesto and I would boil pasta and toss it with the pesto and pack it away for lunch. Food blogger-in-the-making, y’all.
I worked in the office that year and I remember talking with the lady who took attendance about my lunches. The conversation either was or wasn’t prompted by the pesto stuck in my braces when I reported for office duty after lunch (#grosssssssssssssss). Anyway, I humble bragged that my disgusting dental situation grew out of my homemade lunch. She totally validated me: “Oh yes, mija, pesto pasta is so good! Do you make your own pesto? The name pesto comes from the Spanish word for ‘stinky.'” I think I replied with an eye-roll or a distracted “ugh-huh” because I was adorable, and teenagers suck.
I learned two things that day, one blew my mind and the other I trusted without verification for the last, oh, 13 years or so.
Let’s start with the second one: pesto definitely does not come from the Spanish word for stinky. I heard that, from the trusted source of Attendance Lady At My Junior High, and passively believed it was true (despite totally knowing that pesto is Italian and recognizing the close cognate of pesto and mortar and pestle) until basically this afternoon. That’s when I finally consulted Marcella, who I trust for all things Italian and most things sassy, and she confirmed that the word pesto derives from the verb pestare which means to pound or grind, as in a mortar. This is not the only wrong thing I learned in junior high.*
Also, Marcella is insistent that pesto should never be made with any leaf but basil and to her I say: this former 8th grade office assistant is breaking all the rules. No mortar and pestle for me today, folks. It’s all arugula leaves and food processors and disrespecting your elders up in here.
The other thing, the one that completely blew my 8th-grade mind, was that pesto could be made. At home. For me, pesto was a thing that came in a fancy little jar. It was smelly and oily and delicious, but definitely not something I was capable of producing myself. I don’t remember exactly when I started making my own pestos, but it was sometime between the 8th grade post-lunch realization that pesto didn’t grow in jars and my senior year in college, when I distinctly recall a second wave of the pesto kick. (I adopted a basil plant, which I named Basel, who was kidnapped from my apartment complex pool deck. Before he met his tragic end, Basel supplied delicious delicate little leaves that I used to make so much pesto that none of my roommates were sad when he was kidnapped.)
It’s looking like 2014 might be another year of pestos here at Leighto-Greato. I did a baby spinach pesto last week (it was meh, but good enough with bread and parmesan pudding). This weekend really felt like spring, so I celebrated with this arugula pesto. And I’m already eyeing the basil plants at the grocery store for Basel II (banking joke! ha!), who I plan to adopt this summer and pulverize into a million delicious spreads and pasta sauces.
- 4 oz. baby arugula
- ½ c. olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 2 T. walnuts
- ½ c. fresh-grated parmesan cheese
- Boiled egg
- Pulse arugula, oil, garlic, walnuts, and a pinch of sea salt in a food processor until smooth. Stir in the cheese. Spread on bread with a boiled egg (erhm, I know someone who had that for lunch on Sunday) or toss with pasta.
* A few other things I learned in Junior High that were definitely wrong, in no particular order:
- You can get pregnant from sitting on public toilet seats.
- The worst thing about getting pregnant (from toilet seats or not) was that Tommy Hilfiger doesn’t make maternity clothes. (He totally does, though I just ruined my google search history looking for examples of Tommy Hilfiger maternity jeans to link to.) (Also, they literally put that fact on a t-shirt as the number one reason to practice abstinence, passed the shirts out at school, and made a special exception to our dress code to allow students to wear the shirts to school.)
- Hermione Granger’s name is pronounced “her-me-one.”
- Capri pants are neither shorts (too long) nor pants (too short), and therefore against the dress code. The lawyer in me was born when I argued that they should be acceptable within the spirit of the rules, if not the black-letter of them. I was sent home to change anyway.