When I first found out that the theme for this month's No Croutons Required was Mediterranean Salads, I was thoroughly unperturbed. As someone who is 100% Italian I thought, I've got this in the bag.
And then, like the true logician that I am, I started to wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, visions of if/else and if/then statements running through my head. I was being haunted by the ghost of Aristotle, if you will, which is quite fitting considering the fact that Greece is one of the major culinary centers of the Mediterranean world.
What makes a certain dish Mediterranean? And if a country borders this body of water then is all of the food that originates from there considered to be Mediterranean food? Or is there only a subset of that country's cuisine that truly qualifies?
So I did what I do best, which is consulted Wikipedia. But alas, I am finally beginning to see what my professors mean when they say that Wikipedia is not the most reliable source on the web (perish the thought!). Thus, I did the next best thing which was to perform a google search. And here is what I learned.
The Mediterranean is divided into three culinary regions: North African, eastern Mediterranean, and southern European. Even though these are seemingly disparate entities, their food has the shared trait of using "robust and clear" flavors; as a result, it is essentially what we think of when we think of home cooking. Onions, garlic, tomatoes, and olive oil abound in all of these areas and thus often serve as the base upon which a dish is built. Vegetables are also extremely prominent (eggplant, squash, peppers, mushrooms, okra, artichokes, and cucumbers), as are legumes (lentils, chickpeas, fava beans, green beans, and white kidney beans), and herbs (rosemary, basil, cilantro, parsley, dill, mint, fennel, and oregano). In addition, there is a definite emphasis on cooking from the ground with what is local and available rather than with esoteric spices and herbs from foreign and distant lands.
And what is more local than the flower pot in your (parents') backyard? Nothing. Hence the inspiration for this tortellini pesto pasta salad made entirely with basil that my dad has spent the summer nurturing (especially since his zucchini plants turned out to be cucumber plants, which for some reason he felt warranted far less of his time and affection).
I am submitting this to Presto Pasta Nights (hosted this week by Rachel of The Crispy Cook), No Croutons Required (hosted this month by Lisa of Lisa's Kitchen) AND Souper Sundays, hosted weekly over at Kahakai Kitchen.
Tortellini Pesto Pasta Salad
2 lb tortellini
8 stalks worth of basil cut from the garden
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 cloves garlic
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
1. Set up the water for the tortellini and cook as per package instructions. Make sure to reserve at least a cup of pasta water.
2. In a food processor, combine the basil, pine nuts, garlic, and parmesan cheese. Add olive oil. Process. Add salt and pepper to taste.
3. Mix the pesto with the drained pasta. Add the pasta water until the sauce can be evenly distributed among the pasta and until the dish is moist enough for your taste. Serve.