In Italy, families are often much larger than just your blood relatives. Aunties (zie) and uncles (zii) aren’t just your parent’s siblings. They are also your parent’s friends, and the godparents of your siblings. As a child I thought everyone was a blood relative till I was old enough to realise that Aunty and Uncle is said as a sign of respect to those adults close to your family.
It is wonderful celebrating the relationships that are close to your family by referring to them as “zii”. These people are immediately more strongly connected to your family and remain so for many many years.
My mum and dad are one of 4 and one of 7 respectively, so there are many cousins (first, second and now third cousins) across the globe that we don’t often get to see. As the youngest cousin in one family and the second youngest in the other, almost everyone is now partnered off or married (not to mention the children!), and it is lovely to see the famiglia continue to grow.
In Rome last year, my Australian siblings and I had dinner with some of our Italian cousins. It was the first time in a very long time that I had seen them and there was a raft of second cousins I had never met – possibly the most handsome group of young boys I had ever seen! Both Scotty and my brother’s wife didn’t speak much Italian (read very little) so after much translating back and forth many wonderful disjointed conversations were had – but the conversations weren’t lacking in warmth.
This pesto recipe came about from a conversation we had at our Roman dinner with my cousin Stephania’s husband. We were talking about this blog (because it seems the whole family is keeping a close eye on it) and got onto food from the region where he was born. This mint and walnut pesto is a specialty of his area and is something his mother makes often. After he talked through what went into it I knew I would be making it the moment we flew home to Sydney.
In truth, it is not at all as ‘minty’ as you think it is going to be. The olive oil and parmesan cuts through the mint and it is perfect stirred simply through pasta al dente with dried chilli. It’s more subtle than basil pesto but has just as much impact.
The key to its perfection is that you need to use the young mint shoots from the tips of the mint, not the older larger leaves which are much stronger.
Mint and Walnut Pesto
1 1/2 cups fresh young mint leaves, packed
1/3 cup freshly grated Grana Padano cheese
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup walnuts toasted
1 medium sized garlic clove, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Place mint leaves and walnuts together in a food processor and pulse a few times. Add the garlic and pulse a few times more.
Turn the food processor on medium and slowly add olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is running. After adding the oil turn the food processor off and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and freshly ground salt and pepper to taste and pulse again until blended.