Mr Massimo Bottura’s Easy Pesto Recipe, And Why He’s Shut Down His Kitchen Quarantine
Pasta with mint and breadcrumb pesto. Photograph by Ms Heather Taylor
A few seconds before we spoke, Mr Massimo Bottura had just finished a phone call with Ms Jacinda Ardern. He was working with the New Zealand prime minister to prepare a (virtual) feast of lamb and kiwi martini cocktails for an episode of Kitchen Quarantine – the self-made Instagram TV cooking series Mr Bottura has filmed from his home throughout Italy’s lockdown.
“It’s been a crazy situation,” says the pioneering chef, entrepreneur and food waste campaigner. “I’m very active and I love to travel. But at one point, we had to live with what remained – our family, our home and social media.”
Mr Bottura took on lockdown with a sense of enthusiasm and adventure that’s come to define his career. Whether he’s gleefully turning Italian culinary traditions on their head – and winning Michelin stars along the way – at Osteria Francescana, his Modena restaurant that’s topped the World’s 50 Best list, or transforming surplus food into delicious dishes as part of his global food waste non-profit project, Food for Soul, the chef does nothing by halves. And much like the Ferraris made in his hometown of Modena, he can sometimes be hard to keep pace with.
Mr Bottura’s Instagram TV cooking classes, which were filmed nightly by his daughter Alexa from his family home, have taught an audience of millions how to make classic Italian recipes, from béchamel sauce to pasta. “These were rare and precious days,” he says. “It’s a privilege to be together under one roof. With Italy under lockdown, my wife Lara and I were sharing our family life with no filters. Charlie [their son, who has a rare genetic disorder] is Charlie – if he’s grumpy, he’s grumpy. But we wanted to bring some joy to share all over the world, and to show that family life is not perfect – even ours is crazy.”
How did his online venture start? “There’s a crack, and the light gets in,” says Mr Bottura. “Near the beginning of the lockdown, I was cooking at home while my daughter was having a virtual aperitivo with friends, and they were interested in what I was doing. That was the light – and it’s grown from there.” The most well-received recipes, he says, have been for basic dishes. “Vanilla custard, béchamel, ragu and tiramisu.”
“Near the beginning of the lockdown, I was cooking at home while my daughter was having a virtual aperitivo with friends and they were interested in what I was doing, and it’s grown from there”
The popularity of Kitchen Quarantine tells of a world that’s fallen back in love with cooking. It’s also led to a more considered appreciation for the ingredients we’re using. “We can now dedicate some time to shopping, in a careful way. Ask your butcher, farmers, the people in the markets what’s good that day – you’ll save money and you’ll eat better.”
An appreciation for the humblest of ingredients and a need to cut down on waste inspired the simple pasta dish with breadcrumb pesto, for which Mr Bottura has shared the recipe below. “Lara came back with lots of herbs from the garden,” he explains. “But we didn’t have enough of the ingredients to make a proper pesto. So we made this simple pesto with breadcrumbs and olive oil, and very cold water – this keeps the herbs green, because it protects the chlorophyll. It was a recipe borne out of necessity.”
As Italy comes out of lockdown, Mr Bottura has, for now, wrapped up Kitchen Quarantine and is looking to the future. Last week, Osteria Francescana reopened with social distancing measures in place. During their three-month hiatus, the team have developed a completely new tasting menu, named “With A Little Help From My Friends”. “It’s inspired by The Beatles, with dishes such as ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Sturgeon Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’,” says Mr Bottura. “When we reopened, [we thought] people would be bored of eating traditional Italian food. So we’re doing something completely new.”
Pasta with mint and breadcrumb pesto
For the pesto
- 200g basil leaves
- 50g parsley leaves
- 120g mint leaves
- 25g stale bread, finely crumbled
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 50g freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
- 1 tbsp sea salt
For the pasta
- 1 tbsp coarse salt
- 600g fusilli pasta or other short pasta
- Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese, to serve
In a blender or food processor, combine the basil, parsley, mint, breadcrumbs, garlic and five ice cubes. Pulse until finely chopped. Add the olive oil, cheese and salt, and pulse to incorporate.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over medium heat. Add the fusilli and cook until al dente. Toss the pasta with the pesto. Sprinkle with the grated parmigiano and serve.