Welcome to the October installment of Cucina Conversations! This month, we are talking about one of my favorite topics: preserving. I am still very much a canning and preserving newbie and have not yet ventured far into the endeavor, but the little I’ve done had me hooked from the start. The very first canning recipe I made was this beautiful and delicious Tropea onion jam from Domeinca Marchetti’s most recent cookbook, Preserving Italy. I returned straight back to Domenica’s lovely cookbook to make my contribution for this month’s recipe, pesto abruzzese. Preserving gets the spotlight mostly during the spring and summer months, when produce is varied and abundant, but the craft of what Italians call conservare is very much a year-round practice.
Pesto abruzzese is a raw vegetable paste made of carrot, celery, onion, garlic, celery leaves, and parsley. All the vegetables are minced uniformly in a food processor along with salt and just enough olive oil to bind the vegetables together into a thick paste. The pesto is then transferred into a sterilized glass container and topped off with a thin slip of olive oil before being refrigerated. Unlike most preserved foods, pesto abruzzese has a short shelf life of only two weeks, but that is hardly a drawback. Pesto abruzzese is a kitchen workhorse and meant to be used often and quickly. Don’t let the word “pesto” fool you, though–unlike pesto genovese, pesto abruzzese is meant to be cooked. It’s function is strictly as a sofritto (flavor base) for soups, stews, and sauces, so it will always start off being sautéed in olive oil before other ingredients are added.
Pesto abruzzese is something you can make year-round, but I especially like to have a jar handy during the colder months when I make soups and stews on a regular basis. It’s a time-saving kitchen shortcut that comes together in a few short minutes with minimal prep. I like to make pesto abruzzese after a grocery run when I’ve stocked up on fresh produce. I am always buying carrots, celery, garlic, onions, and parsley since I use these vegetables so often in my cooking. Making pesto abruzzese after I’ve bought vegetables at their freshest ensures that it will have great flavor, texture, and color. Although I’ve listed them as optional, I highly recommend using celery leaves for their intense flavor. They’re often neglected and frequently discarded which is a shame because they’re the tastiest part. I’ve also listed garlic as optional only because I find its flavor too overpowering in a sofritto, but this is personal preference entirely. Not to be forgotten is a good-quality olive oil which not only binds the vegetables into a paste, but also imparts rich flavor. The versatility of pesto abruzzese is welcome in a variety of diets including vegetarian, gluten-free, and vegan.
There is only a small handful of us posting for this month’s topic, but my fellow Cucina Conversations bloggers have some beautiful recipe contributions: Marialuisa took advantage of Italy’s hot summer months to dry out a bounty of tomatoes to make pomodori secchi sott’olio (sun-dried tomatoes preserved in oil). Carmen, who lives in Australia where winter is just now ending, harvested organic mandarins from her parents’ orto (garden) and made a vibrant marmellata di mandarini (mandarin orange marmalade). Rosemarie is presenting a more unexpected preserved recipe and one of my favorite Italian breakfast foods: fette biscottate, brioche bread that has been dried out until crisp, a tin of which will last weeks in your pantry and are the perfect vehicle for homemade jams and marmalades. Finally, Daniela made a gorgeous confettura di marroni, chestnut jam from the first fresh chestnuts of the season.
Enjoy our recipes and buon appetito!
Adapted from Preserving Italy: Canning, Curing, Infusing, and Bottling Italian Flavors and Traditions by Domenica Marchetti
A food processor makes quick work of making this savory vegetable paste that is perfect to use as the flavor base for soups, stews, and sauces. I like to give the carrots a head start in the food processor because carrots are the firmest of all the vegetables–if you added the vegetables all at once, the more tender ones would be puréed by the time the carrot is chopped adequately and the sauce would be unevenly textured. Pesto abruzzese will keep for two weeks refrigerated in a tightly sealed container.
4 medium carrots
2 celery stalks
Handful of celery leaves (optional but highly recommended)
1 small yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, peeled + tough ends trimmed off (optional)
Handful fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
½ cup (125 mL) extra-virgin olive oil + more to cover pesto
Wash and dry all the vegetables thoroughly. Peel the carrots, celery, and onion and cut them into 2-inch (5 cm) pieces. Place the carrot pieces only in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and pulse several times until the carrots are coarsely chopped. Next, add in the celery, celery leaves (if using), onion, garlic cloves (if using), parsley leaves, and salt. Pulse until all the vegetables are uniformly minced, scraping down the sides of the work bowls as necessary. With the food processor running, pour in as much of the olive oil as necessary to form a thick paste (it should not be runny).
Transfer the pesto into a clean (or sterilized) wide-mouth glass jar and press down with a spatula or spoon to remove any air bubbles. Top off with enough olive oil just to cover the pesto. Wipe the jar rim with a clean, damp paper towel and close the jar securely. Refrigerate immediately.
Spoon the pesto abruzzese out as needed to use as the flavor base for soups, stews, and sauces. Use the pesto abruzzese only for recipes that require the pesto to be cooked. Simply sauté the pesto in olive oil over medium-low heat until fragrant and slightly softened before proceeding with the recipe you are making.
Storage: Refrigerate in a tightly sealed jar and use within 2 weeks.