The lush and verdant region of Liguria situated on the Northwestern coast of Italy is well known not only for the bounty of fish and shellfish which comes from the waters on its wide swath of coastline, but for the many different vegetables, wild pine nuts, pork, wild game and herbs such as basil, the main ingredient in Pesto Genovese and other Ligurian dishes. Pesto alla Genovese, heady with fresh basil, Parmesan and Pecorino Romano cheeses, garlic, pine nuts and oil, is named after Genoa, the capital of Liguria and birthplace of Christopher Columbus.
Pesto comes from the Italian word, pestare which means to pound or crush referring to the pounding and crushing of the herbs, garlic, pine nuts and oil. Authentic pesto alla genovese is made from Genovese basil, Ligurian olive oil and European pine nuts. The cheese must be Parmigiano Reggiano. In Provence, pesto is called pistou and excludes the pine nuts, but the cheese may be added. Other variations may include spinach, arugula and other green herbs and vegetables, but the pounding or crushing process remains the same. Source.
This satisfying soup comes together quickly. In fact, in the time it takes to cook the pasta, you can have have it on the table in 20 minutes or so. While the pancetta, oil and garlic are sauteing, bring the pasta water to boil. The pesto is quickly made in a food processor and can be made ahead of time, just add the cheeses and garlic when you are ready to stir the pesto into the soup. No pine nuts are added to this pesto, but can be added, if desired. If you like pesto as much as I do, try this basil pesto bread – photo below.
Ligurian Pasta Pesto Soup
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped pancetta or bacon
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium plum tomato, peeled and chopped
1/2 pound (8 ounces) linguine or thin spaghetti, broken into short pieces
6 cups water
1-1/2 cups packed basil leaves
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (or extra Parmesan)
For the Pesto
Rinse the basil and dry thoroughly in a salad spinner. Combine the basil and garlic in a food processor with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Pulse to attain a slightly chunky sauce, adding remaining oil as you process. Spoon into a bowl and add the cheeses, then season with salt. Float extra olive oil on top until ready to use.
For the Soup
Combine oil, pancetta and garlic in a pan and saute over medium heat until pancetta is slightly golden and the fat is running out. Do not brown the garlic-it should be straw-colored. Stir in chopped tomato and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil. Stir in pasta and a large pinch of salt, cook until al dente. Adjust seasonings, remove from heat and stir in pesto. Serve immediately.