Start by putting a pot of water on the stove to boil.
Toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry pan over medium. Make them look golden; don’t burn them. Shake the pan to them toast evenly on both sides.
Smash some garlic cloves to peel them and throw them in your small food processor (one clove if you want to smell raw garlic; two cloves if you want to taste raw garlic; three cloves if you’re trying to test your garlic limits. Throw in fresh ground black pepper, salt, a little bit of marjoram or oregano, a little squeeze of lime or lemon (to keep the green color), a big bunch of basil leaves. Throw in most (but not all) of the pine nuts, and then whiz it up with a chug of your best olive oil.
Try not to overdo the oil, you’re making a paste (pesto means “paste”), not a sauce. It should be thick enough to stand up on a plate without spreading too much. Don’t over whiz it, grind it up without liquifying it. You might have to scrape down the sides with a spoon to keep it moving without adding too much oil.
By now your water is boiling, so go around the house and tell everyone to stop what they’re doing, wash their hands, and sit the hell down at the table. When they are moving toward the table, then throw in a fistful of salt and a small fistful of spaghetti for each eater.
While the pasta is boiling, grate a cup of your parmesan with a microplane into your mixing bowl. Incorporate the pesto with the grated parmesan. Your guests should now be sitting and if they’re not, don’t make this for them again. Especially if they tell you to calm down or make some excuse about how they’re doing something important; to hell with that. They don’t deserve this recipe; they can eat grocery store pesto. They probably won’t even taste the difference. Smart people know to sit the hell down when you’re making this pesto.
Cook your pasta all the way or almost all the way; once it gets tossed with pesto it doesn’t finish cooking. At the very second that it’s no longer al dente, pull it out with kitchen tongs and mix it HOT into the pesto. It’s ok if a little pasta water drips into the bowl; the pesto and pasta will absorb that water when you toss it. Toss that pasta in the cheesy pesto for a good minute before twisting it onto serving plates.
Top with more cheese, more toasted pine nuts; garnish with a chiffonade of basil and maybe a little drizzle of oil if you want. Don’t get too fancy, serving it hot is more important than making it look good for Instagram. If somebody complains that it’s too hot to eat right away and they have to wait for it to cool down, then good, you win.
When I was in Rome, I realized that the servings of pasta were small; smaller than Americans are used to. That’s because there’s going to be vegetables, a grilled chicken, later salad a bunch of wine, and then dessert. It doesn’t matter, your mouth gets used to that shiny bright taste of hot pesto rather quickly; you don’t want to waste your pesto on a mouth that’s numb to it.
Last thing; I told my Italian host family that Americans think pesto is very special; they were a little baffled that we would assign value to something as simple as pesto. I told them about the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza called Seattle “The Pesto of Cities,” which they found nonsensical. I tried to explain that Seattle is green and fancy… they laughed and told me that pesto is not fancy. Meh, I guess neither is Seattle.