There are fresh herbs that are essential to Italian cuisine. They include sage (salvia), parsley, rosemary (rosmarino), oregano (origano) and bay leaf (alloro), but none are more important or more useful than basil. Unlike the other herbs, basil (basilico) is best when it isn’t cooked. The flavor and fragrance are diminished when heat is applied. If you use basil in a sauce, add it at the last moment before serving. Dried basil, in my opinion, is worthless. If I don’t have fresh, I don’t use it.
Of course, basil is the key ingredient for pesto sauce and nothing but the freshest basil leaves should be used. Coastal Liguria is the home to pesto and as far as the coastal Italians are concerned there is only one true pesto and it’s pesto genovese. History books report that Genovese troops were discovered hiding under Jerusalem’s walls before a battle because of the basil scent on their breath. They then found their way home to the Ligurian ports by following the smell of wild basil on the hillsides. The Genovese Pesto Consortium, begun in 2011, standardized the recipe for pesto genovese and stipulates the types of pasta which should be used: trenette, trofie or potato gnocchi.
Another favorite use of basil is to pair it with fresh tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and extra-virgin olive oil. You can slice the tomatoes, top them with a slice of cheese, a basil leaf and a drizzle of oil and maybe a splash of aged balsamic vinegar for the classic Insalata Caprese. If you don’t have a good slicing tomato, cut up cherry tomatoes and add pieces of mozzarella, torn basil leaves and a good olive oil and a bit of salt tossed together in a bowl. If the tomatoes throw off a lot of juice, add some croutons (a slice or two of M’tucci’s toasted sourdough bread works great) to soak up the juice. At M’tucci’s Moderno and M’tucci’s Italian we use basil as a garnish for pastas, add it as the main ingredient for pizza margherita, we make basil oil for our bread plate and we use it in our house made Strawberry-Basil Shrub.
When selecting basil seeds or plants for the garden, try to find basil genovese, and plant in a location where the plant won’t be exposed to eight hours of the hot Albuquerque sun, or their leaves will become thin and tough and won’t be as aromatic as the leaves show in the photo above. Read further for the classic pesto recipe at the end of this essay.
Rosemary is probably the most popular Italian herb after basil. It’s used to brighten the flavors of roast pork, chicken or rabbit. Pan-roast new potatoes with a few sprigs, salt, pepper and olive oil. Fresh rosemary is preferable to dried and it grows easily in the Albuquerque area. The tender shoots at the top are the best for cooking. Use it sparingly so it doesn’t overwhelm the flavors of your meat or potatoes. At M’tucci’s we use fresh rosemary for roast chicken and pork and in our brines.
Sage was considered a medicinal herb in ancient times, but is popular in Italian kitchens. It is often used with game birds, in Tuscan bean dishes, and in some Northern Italian soup and risotto recipes. The classic use of sage is in a brown butter sauce over butternut squash ravioli (which is an occasional special at M’tucci’s Italian). A popular risotto in Piedmont is beef, rosemary, sage and Barolo wine. Like rosemary, we add fresh sage to M’tucci’s roasts and brines.
Although I always grow oregano, I use it sparingly. Unlike the other herbs, the dried version is considered as good as fresh. It’s one of the key ingredients for the classic Neapolitan pizza marinara, which is a marinara sauce with oregano, no cheese. It was likely the first pizza made in Naples and named for the sailors (marineros) who took it to sea. Oregano is more common in Southern Italian cooking and is used with eggplant dishes, stews and with grilled seafood. M’tucci’s uses fresh oregano in our bolognese sauce and in some of our pickling sauces.
Pesto sauce has become popular over the years and has probably suffered from overuse and odd additions to what is a classic and pretty standard sauce. The late Italian cookbook author, Marcella Hazan is pretty adamant about making it according to the Genoese style. She strongly recommends making it with a large mortar and pestle, but says a food processor is acceptable.
I’ve had pesto genoese in Vernazza, one of the Cinque Terre villages in Liguria and remember it as the best example I’ve had anywhere. I’ve been trying to replicate it for years, but the basil grown on the hillsides above the sea, with sun, humidity and salt air, has a unique flavor that is nearly impossible to duplicate here. However, I try. Here is an adaptation of her recipe, which makes 6-8 servings.
In a food processor add:
2 C. tightly packed fresh basil leaves, 1/2 C. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (the best you can afford), 3 T. pine nuts, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and a pinch of sea salt and process to a creamy consistency
If you are going to freeze the pesto, stop here and don’t add the cheese. I do this so I can have pesto during the winter. When you are ready to make the sauce for pasta, do this next step after thawing.
If using the entire paste, grate 1/2 C of parmesan and 2 T of pecorino romano and mix together. Blend the cheese and sauce by hand in a bowl. Mix in 3 T of softened butter.
When the pasta is nearly finished cooking, add 2-3 T of the pasta water to the bowl and blend the sauce by hand. Return the finished pasta to a large, warm bowl and toss with the pesto. Serve immediately.
NEWS FROM M’TUCCI’S
M’tucci’s @ Lava Rock Brewing Co.
HAPPY HOUR & NFL Football!
$7 Happy Hour Menu features The Burger, a 10” Margherita or Pepperoni Green Chile Pizza, Charcuterie Boards and Wings for $7, Monday - Friday 3:00 - 6:30. Pair the food with a beer for $10.50 or $11, depending on the beer. Not eating (why not?), then $1 off all pints. The NFL is up and running and you can catch your favorite team on one of our large five screens.
HAPPY HOUR EVERY MONDAY UNTIL THE END OF THE FIRST HALF OF MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL!
$5 basket of Wings all day on Sunday
RETURNING BEER - A small batch Brut IPA is now on tap (5.8% ABV and 30 IBU). We should have the Coconut Hazy IPA ready to pour today.
October is Down Syndrome Awareness Month and we are donating to the local Rio Grande Down Syndrome Network - 10% of Gross Food Sales and $1 from every pint of Petroglyph Wit will go to the Foundation all month long.
October 19: Color Me Beautiful - Create your fragrance flower. Space is limited. Call to reserve.
Upcoming Live Music:
October 11: Hatrick
Thanks to all our fans who voted our Servers the Best of Rio Rancho.
Braised Pork-belly Risotto - Braised in white wine, thyme, Italian oregano, fennel and bay leaves, seared to perfection, then served atop velvety house-made risotto
Kiona Riesling, Washington
Pan Seared Sea Scallops - Sea Scallops are delicate with a sweet and buttery flavor. Served with creamy garlic mashed potatoes, grilled artichokes, sautéed arugula, topped with our lemon, caper, butter sauce and smoked prosciutto powder
Michael David Sauvignon Blanc, California,
Hand 24 oz Hand-Cut Porterhouse
Perfectly grilled to order and served with creamy garlic mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus and our house-made traditional Italian Salsa Verde
Liberty School Cabernet, Paso Robles California
Tonight, 8:30 - Amy Cliser Live in the Bar
Thursday, 7:00 - Alex Maryol Live in the Bar
Weekend Brunch - 11:00 - 3:00
Cut of Day- 24oz hand cut Harris Ranch Porterhouse, Salt Water Potatoes, Grilled Asparagus, Lemon Balsamic Reduction
Pan Seared Seafood - Mediterranean Branzino, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Grilled Artichoke, Sautéed Arugula Lemon Capers Beurre Blanc Sauce
Ravioli - Local Oyster Mushroom Ricotta Ravioli - House Red Wine Salami, Local Oyster Mushrooms, Local Green Chile, White Wine Butter Sauce
Braised- Harris Ranch Slow Braised Beef Short Ribs, Creamy Polenta, Sautéed Spinach with Lemon Orange Rosemary Braising Sauce
Weekend Brunch 11:00 - 3:00
M’tucci’s Italian Café & Market
Voted Albuquerque’s Best Deli by the Albuquerque Journal’s Readers.
The Café & Market continues to offer amazing pastries in our display case every day and we’re busy planning for the holidays. We carry the same great Italian imports, all of our artisan breads, and a wide variety of imported, domestic, and house made cheese and meat. There is an expanded selection of coffee and pastries. We have charcuterie boards to eat in or take out with wine and beer by the glass. Click here to see our menu.
We cater events of all sizes and varieties. We are providing the food for The Whiskey Classic at San Cristobal Movie Ranch south of Santa Fe on October 12. The event will also feature 50 whiskeys, more than 20 distilled spirits, beer, wine and cider. A portion of event proceeds will go toward a scholarship for students enrolled in Central New Mexico Community College’s beverage and brewing management program. Click here for information and tickets.
Contact Ivy for your next event, large or small. We can handle it!
Click here to see our catering menu. 505.350.0019 or email@example.com
M’TUCCI’S AROUND TOWN
Our market items can be purchased at a couple of locations in Albuquerque. We deliver our fresh bread every Tuesday and Friday to Silver Street Market at 2nd and Silver. Choose from Sourdough, Fennel Rye, Wheat, Baguette, Ciabatta, and Raisin Rosemary Focaccia.
Drinking at Bosque in Nob Hill? You can order a M’tucci’s Charcuterie Board while there.
M’TUCCI’S TWENTY-FIVE JOB FAIR
Watch this space for the announcement of our December Job Fair for our new location. We are looking for highly skilled and motivated servers, kitchen workers, bartenders and managers.
SERVICE INDUSTRY NIGHT & DISCOUNTS
Area service industry workers can get a Service Industry card from us by showing proof of employment. With the card you receive 10% off your check every day and 20% off on Sundays from 6:00 - 9:00. Dine in only.
Our food is available for delivery with Door Dash or for pick up. Pick up something for the weekend or on your way home from work. The links to ordering are on the Home page.
MTUCCI’S YOUTUBE CHANNEL
Videos about making cocktails and pasta and getting to know the M’tucci’s culture. Click here
See you next Friday - Ciao!