You know Cinque Terre. At least from the many pictures that we now see through social media, it's no longer a hidden place. However in this touristy area, it is still possible to do something unique and local.
Nessun Dorma is restaurant famous for it's views and most importantly its food. They don't do pasta or pizza but their small plates are works of culinary art. They also offer a pesto-making course. I quickly booked myself onto it as I had wanted to learn something from the locals and learning how to make pesto fit the bill perfectly since pesto comes from Genoa which is about an hour from Cinque Terre. Due to the popularity of the restaurant, I thought the course would be oversubscribed and lacking intimacy, but that wasn't the case. People were more concerned about having their own plate and catching a shot with the view, rather than slowing down, and learning a few things from the locals about their local speciality. It turned out that there were only five of us doing the course but to me, that was the perfect number, as it allowed for conversation to flow freely between us as a group and we got to learn a little about each other too.
A few minutes later, Simon the restaurant owner and our guide came to join us. From the moment I met him I realised that he was a man fuelled by the love of his culture and sharing it with the world. Having the restaurant, though successful, to him was not the most important thing. Sharing his culture was far more enjoyable and that's why he closed the restaurant for an hour and holds the pesto making course instead of opening and making more money. At that point I was grateful I had booked the course.
All the ingredients we used were local. Basil from Genoa, pine nuts from Pisa, garlic from Amalfi and parmesan cheese from Parma. I had to my my pesto without pine nuts as I am allergic to them.
The first part of the lesson was to learn how to pick basil properly. It's picked from the stem so as to avoid bruising the leaves so that the colour of the pesto doesn't become darker before we want it to. After we picked a lot of of leaves added some ice over the leaves to make sure they didn't oxidise, whilst sipping cappuccino, it was time to prepare the pestle and the motor which is the more traditional way of making pesto. We cut very small portions of garlic and added that to the mortar with some rock salt and then used the pestle to grind together and make into a paste. The paste was then used to coat the mortar. Only then were we allowed to add the basil inside.
The pine nuts were added at this point to aid in the grinding of the basil leaves. I had to work a little harder as I didn't have nuts with mine. After 5 min of grinding, we had an opportunity to taste what we had done so far. It looked like pesto but didn't fully taste of it. We realised we were missing the parmasean cheese. We then added that and continued mixing till we had a nice smooth paste.
We had an opportunity to taste some Cinque Terre wine, so aptly names based on the region where the grapes are grown. This was probably one of the best wines I have tasted as it was refreshingly fresh and had that sea grown kind of smell.
We sipped on the wine and enjoyed some of the pesto. There was an opportunity to compare the pesto which was already made using a blender and the one which we had just made. Unfortunately i couldn't try it due to my allergy but the verdict from all my new friends was the same, the one we had made was better. Much much better.
After a fantastic session of laughing and hearing stories from Simon about the Italian culture, we then indulged in another Italian favourite past time. Eating.
I don't even have the words to describe how lunch was. As you can see from the image above, it was everything. Every single part of it was expertly made. Every bite was divine and as the customers started coming in, we made sure to let them know what to order. Oh and that they should come back and do the pesto making course, because it's the best ever.
Simon, if you ever read this, congratulations on not only carrying on with you passion but for continuing to share your knowledge with everyone else.
This was the best experience that the Blue Trainers have taken me to. I can't wait for some more.
Till next time
Because they say sharing is caring :)