In summer 2001, we took our son, then a 13 year-old Latin student, to Rome, Pompeii and Paestum. He and John, Sr. spent hours, clutching the Michelin guide and touring places most people never go -Nero’s Palace, the Temple of Neptune and empty side streets in Pompeii. They were in history-nerd heaven. Meanwhile I happily tagged along, my mind wandering towards the next fabulous meal.
One evening in Rome, we ate at a restaurant, tucked away down a narrow street somewhere north of the Pantheon. That’s when I first tried arugula pesto. Tangy and sharp, the pesto tasted so summery and GREEN! Ever since then, it has been a standard quick dinner for the Kees. We mix the argula pesto with whatever pasta is in the pantry, plus tomatoes, olives and fresh mozzarella, and 30 minutes later we’re sitting down to eat.
- 10 ounces baby arugula (You may substitute any combination of Italian parsley or basil for 3 ounces arugula.)
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- ⅓ cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 3 cloves garlic
- salt and pepper to taste
- ⅓ cup good olive oil
- Put all ingredients except olive oil in food processor.
- Turn on machine for several seconds to chop ingredients, then slowly stream olive oil into bowl. Process until mixed.
After Rome, our threesome traveled down to Compania. Paestum’s ruins, a wonderful destination off the tourist path 1½ hours south of Pompeii, are amazing -beautifully proportioned, well-preserved, relatively empty and rivalling most anything in Rome.
Because it’s Italy, of course there was a food angle, as well.
As we drove down Highway A3 out of Salerno, we began noticing the water buffalo farms on either side of the highway, each of which had a little store with tastings for mozzarella. Just like a winery! That’s when we realized they take their buffalo mozzarella seriously here.
We spent several hours under the scorching sun wandering Paestum’s ruins and then sat our dusty ankles down for a long lunch at a nearby restaurant. Fresh buffalo mozzarella featured in every course: fried mozzarella, Caprese salad, mozzarella and ham crepes. Even mozzarella ice cream! That’s when I became a convert to the delicious creation, mozzarella di bufala, which has been made in this region for 1000 years. Rich and slightly tangy, So creamy, it melts in your mouth.
Do not compare it to the fresh mozzarella here in the U.S.! Is Aunt Jemima as wonderful as fresh Vermont maple syrup? Does Safeway goat cheese any way resemble the fromage chevre from La Ferme Saint Hubert? Hardly. (And even the buffalo mozzarella we get here in the U.S. doesn’t do the cheese justice.)
So it was arugula pesto and bowtie pasta for the Kees’ dinner last night. The only problem? I really wanted some Paestum buffalo mozzarella to add in, as well.