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In his excellent, just-out memoir, Born Round, Frank Bruni devotes a lot of space to loving descriptions of food. No surprise—the New York Times’s former restaurant critic spent the last five years of his life eating almost every single meal out. But he writes even more rapturously about the outrageous dishes his Italian grandmother and his mother made for him when he was growing up. Bruni has given several of these recipes exclusively to Food & Wine; each day this week, we’ll run a new one on this blog. And we’re starting with his mother's pesto.
“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.