Rodney and I got engaged the Spring before we started business school and the time seemed ripe for a trip. With a small window between work and the start of school, we decided to pack up our bags and head to Europe. We spoiled ourselves by starting our trip in Spain, hitting Barcelona first, and then making a short stopover on the islands of Mallorca and Ibiza. We got into the usual kind of trouble over there, riding scooters on highways and staying up until dawn. I’m still thankful that we survived those few days, even if my camera didn’t.
From Barcelona, we traveled by overnight bus to France, where we met my parents who were living in Nice for a month. This all sounds very Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous, and I promise you that it’s not. This was the one time when the stars aligned and multiple family members somehow ended up on the same trip of a lifetime in the same area, at the same time. This will never happen again. Or maybe it will if we actually do become rich and famous.
To celebrate our pre-dawn arrival, my step-dad met us at the bus stop and hustled us back to their apartment where we were met with an impressive spread of French cheese, salami and duck terrine.
As you can imagine, we ate like gluttons; so much so, that Rodney and I made ourselves sick and had to spend the next day in bed suffering from severe gastrointestinal distress. Too much raw milk cheese isn’t always a good thing.
Fortunately, after our week of binge eating in France, we were on our way to the Liguria region in Italy. Our plan was to hike through Cinque Terre and get healthy again with a mix of salads, fish, and lotsa lotsa pesto.
If you’re a fan of pesto, there is no better place to eat this stuff than in Liguria. Pesto is religion here, with shriveled old Nonnas duking it out for bragging rights over who makes the best version.
With our bellies full of pesto, we headed south to Amalfi. Like our experience in Mexico, we didn’t know where we’d be staying, but hoped for the best, and ended up finding a gem of an apartment with a roof deck facing the Mediterrean. Our place was and run by a mother/son duo, both of whom loved gelato and neither of whom spoke a lick of English.
As you would expect, they grew basil on their doorstep. More pots than I could count, so heisting a few leaves here and there was a no brainer.
We split our roof deck with another apartment, and thus found ourselves sharing dinners and conversation with an Australian couple who were visiting from the city of Adelaide.
“I dated a guy from Adelaide, he’s an actor, I met him on my study abroad in Sydney” I once mentioned. “Name is Damon Gameau.”
As luck would have it, their daughter was at a party with Damon when her parents called to check in. As heard from our side of the phone “Lovely time in Italy, beautiful villa in Amalfi, staying next to a gal who said she dated an actor from Adelaide. Yes, his name’s Damon Gameau. Oh you’re at a party with him! Well tell him that we’re with Jessica! His old girlfriend from Sydney.”
There was a lot of “what a coeencidence Muriel” kind of stuff before the daughter said “hold on Mum, I’ll go and tell Damon”.
A minute passed, and the daughter came back on the phone to report that Damon had never heard of me.
I don’t know how you can forget a girlfriend of 6 months, but apparently it can be done. We went on a mini vacation together. He introduced me to homemade carbonara and Tim Tams. We used to drink white wine in our cramped garden in Coogee Beach. We were in a house fire together. How can one forget these things?
So I dusted off my pride, and focused on the pesto. Because, what’s more important in life, amnesic ex-boyfriends who didn’t use enough shampoo…or pesto?
And here’s a little secret that I’ve learned in the past year or two: pesto can be made with just about any green. And basil, though I love it, needs to be treated with care or it can turn dark.
So my favorites lately have been of the more….exotic variety. Arugula pesto, carrot top pesto, radish green pesto, kale pesto. Name the green, you can make it into pesto.
My go-to combo is usually garlic, olive oil, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts, but I’ve discovered recently that pumpkin seeds make a fine substitute for nuts for our nut-allergic friends (our daughter included).
You don’t even need a recipe for pesto, although I’ve provided one below – just blitz the garlic in a food processor, add everything but the olive oil and pulse to a paste, and while the motor is running, add enough oil until you hear it slushing around loosely. Season to taste.
So whether you’ve signed up for a CSA and are preparing to get overwhelmed with greens this summer, or you (like me) can’t bear to throw away the beautiful vegetable tops that so often become compost or trash, I hope that this gives you some inspiration to get your pesto on. Enjoy!