I’ll never forget an investigative piece I once saw on TV which suggested that something ridiculous like 45% of olive oil sold in supermarkets was actually made of a combination of paint stripper, engine oil and crushed barbie dolls. Okay not exactly, but the gist was that a certain amount of nefarious Italians and Spaniards were basically spitting in a bottle, labeling it “extra virgin” and sending it off to people like you and me who don’t know any better. Either way, I never forgot that – and it made me super paranoid as to what exactly I was forking my R80-120 over for each time I bought a bottle of the olive grove’s ‘finest’. To the extent that I tracked down an FDA study from some time in the 90s that found that a whopping 4% of olive oils on supermarket shelves were actually pure olive oil, most being cut with sunflower oil.
This is a pity, because olive oil is one of the great gifts bestowed on mankind. At least once a week some plastic-faced CNN reporter is interviewing a 178 year-old Italian nonna, asking “the secret of her longevity”, the answer to which inevitably involves a tablespoon of olive oil every day (and the equally inevitable air of disappointment on the part of the reporter when the answer doesn’t involve bathing in the blood of innocents by the light of a waxing moon, rubbing your face with goat’s testicles or something equally exotic that might get them an award at some point).
All this led to me being incredibly happy when a good winemaker friend (the infinitely gracious Andre Liebenberg of the Romond wine farm in the Cape) sent me a bottle of the new olive oil that he’s started producing. I say I was happy because I know the trees from which this oil comes, I’ve walked amongst them (okay – drunkenly stumbled, but who’s counting?) and so equally I know that it’s not a bottle of tap water mixed with cheap face cream from Diskem.
Quite the opposite.
I have a thing about ingredients, because stupidly simple recipes can be elevated (wank alert) to the sublime purely by using the best components – and I know no better way of honouring a top quality bottle of olive oil (which this is; beautifully fresh and zingy without being overbearing) than by making an enormous bowl of pasta, whipping up a huge batch of pesto and getting some people around on a Sunday afternoon to eat it all.
Which is what I did.
By the way, if you’re interested in getting a bottle of Romond Olive Oil, or indeed any of his array of wines (including a new Rosé which is particularly good) email firstname.lastname@example.org
Oh! And lest I forget, thank you to the towering Ryan Metcalfe for taking all the pictures.
Walnut pesto with bacon and linguini
Ingredients (serves 4)
1 small handful of walnuts
1 large bunch of basil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
a couple of rashers of good streaky bacon
1 small dried chilli, seeds removed and finely chopped
half a cup of pouring cream
a good quantity of grated parmesan (no fucking awful pre-grated stuff!! I’ll find you…)
1 pack of linguini pasta
What to do
As you may have noticed, I’m using walnuts for this pesto. This is mostly because of the fact that I don’t actually like pine nuts that much – I’ve always found them slightly too … champy (chew chew chew bits stuck in teeth chew chew), if that makes sense. And after mucking around with various substitutes I’ve settled on walnuts as being my preferred alternative.
In a dry pan toast the walnuts until they’re starting to go golden brown, and then in a blender or with a pestle and mortar combine the basil, chopped garlic, nuts, a pinch of salt and a generous glug of olive oil and bash/pulse until it’s a smooth green liquid paste. I prefer my pesto to be on the wetter side (adding more olive oil as I go) but feel free to keep it slightly thicker if that’s what you like.
Chop up the bacon and then in the same pan you toasted the nuts, fry it up with the chopped chilli and then at the last moment add the cream and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer so that it doesn’t split.
Throw the linguine to a pot of boiling, salted water and cook until al dente (throw some on the roof – if it sticks, it’s done) – drain and empty into a serving bowl. Then mix in the pesto and make sure the pasta is properly coated, then pour in the bacon/cream/chilli and finally finish it off with the parmesan and a couple of twists of black pepper.