“When my mother believed in something, she was dogmatic about it,” Bruni told us. “And she had firm ideas about what belonged in pesto, and what didn’t. Walnuts instead of pine nuts—that was apostasy to her. She also really frowned on cheeses that were too mild. No low-grade supermarket Parmesan; the cheese needed to be saltier than Parmesan, anyway. It was Pecorino Romano for her.”
In Born Round, Bruni writes about a later pesto period, when he was a reporter at the Detroit Free Press in the early '90s, working with his editor and friend Renee Murawski. As he writes, “Renee is always making pesto, and it's a damned fine pesto, nearly as good as Mom's, and pesto happens to be one of your Top Five Most Beloved Ways to sauce pasta, especially if the pasta is fusilli.... Renee often uses fusilli.”
Renee's pesto might be great but Bruni deems his mother's pesto better. After trying it in the Food & Wine Test Kitchen we agree that it's fabulous: It's powerfully cheesy and garlicky, with lots of bright basil flavor, too.
TOTAL: 20 MIN
MAKES ABOUT 1 3/4 CUPS
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 garlic cloves, smashed
3 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 1 cup)
2 cups (packed) basil leaves
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderately high heat, shaking the pan, until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool. In a blender or food processor, finely chop the garlic. Add the cheese and process until finely chopped. Add the basil, toasted pine nuts and vegetable oil and process to a coarse paste. With the machine on, add the olive oil in a thin stream and process until fairly smooth. Season the pesto with salt and use immediately or transfer to a jar, press a piece of plastic wrap on the surface and let stand for up to 8 hours.
Make ahead: The pesto can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.