|Pesto alla Pilipinas|
So here's the deal: I've just spent three weeks - THREE WEEKS - writing The Post From Hell and it's a mess.
What began as a piece about a pasta dish turned into a contorted, convoluted composition about smoke detectors, roller coasters and the psychology of culture shock, to which no amount of torturous allegories could bring coherence. Yet, I seriously considered finishing and posting anyway, thanks to my ongoing susceptibility to the Sunk Cost Fallacy. With so much time already spent, why not try to salvage what I could from this wreck? Well, there's salvaging treasure and then there's salvaging (s)crap...
No, I'll leave this Titanic at the bottom of the ocean and start from scratch instead.
Transitions and Transformations
The theme of 'starting from scratch' had been my original inspiration: I wanted to express how I've had to reassess much of what I'm accustomed to doing, especially with regard to food, since moving to the Philippines. In many ways, I feel as if I'm starting all over: where I shop for groceries, what I choose to buy, how I cook our meals. These and so many other considerations have been undergoing fundamental change as I adapt to my new environment. For the most part, I've enjoyed the process of transformation brought about by new discoveries, but just as often, I find myself longing for things as they were "back at home".
I could certainly cling to my old ways, which would be so easy to do as we've chosen to live in an enclave where the familiar trappings and staples of our American lifestyle are readily accessible. But that would be illusory and unfair - to me, who has expounded at length about connecting with my heritage; to Mr. Noodle, who left behind his own family and all things familiar to pursue new opportunities on foreign shores for our benefit and happiness; and to this beautiful, colorful, vibrant country and culture that we are happy to now call home.
I am still in the process of settling in, of finding my footing and establishing new routines, and of learning and adapting to the nuances of everyday Filipino life. But learning and adapting doesn't mean discarding what I know from before; instead, I will draw upon the old to enrich all the new experiences as they come come my way.
Well, how about that? It seems I managed to salvage some treasure from a wreck after all...
When in Rome . . .
What better way to express the best strategy for adapting to a new environment than that old gem of a proverb, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do"? So, I did. For the second meal that I cooked in my new Philippine kitchen, I made pesto. (The first meal involved lamb chops, a borrowed stock pot and the aforementioned smoke alarm. Let's just leave it at that.)
mortar and pestle, and prepared this classic Italian sauce in the manner for which it was named (Italian: pestare - to pound or crush).
Finally, since I am in Manila rather than in Rome, it seemed right and natural to use Filipino ingredients in place of the basil, pignoli and Parmigiano-Reggiano of traditional pesto alla genovese, for a harmonious blend of East and West:
Malunggay - [Mah-loong-GUY] (Moringa oleifera) Also known as sajina, horseradish tree and a host of other names, malunggay is native to the Indian Subcontinent, but is widely grown and used in the Philippines. While nearly all parts of the tree have culinary and/or medicinal use, malunggay leaves in particular are gaining attention and prominence in Filipino cuisine as something of a wonder food, purportedly containing more vitamins C and A, calcium, protein and potassium than oranges, carrots, milk and bananas, respectively. Comparable in taste and texture to spinach, the dark green thumbnail-sized leaves are often added to tinola, a traditional, delicately-flavored soup of chicken, ginger and green papaya. In this pesto, malunggay imparts a fresh yet distinctly grassy flavor, so I would suggest substituting a portion of the leaves with some cilantro to draw in a more herbaceous taste, if preferred.
Pili Nuts - [Pee-lee] (Canarium ovatum) Looking like elongated pumpkin seeds, pili nuts are indigenous to the Philippines, particularly in the Bicol Region on the southeastern portion of Luzon, the largest island in the archipelago. Mostly unknown beyond the Philippines, pili is popular as a snack, flavored with salt and garlic or covered in a sweet sugar coating. Its mild flavor and almost airy crispness are belied by its fat content - approximately 68.5 grams per 100 grams of nut, nearly 50% more than that of cashews (45g/100g) and comparable to macadamias (69g/100g). Furthermore, the quality of its oil composition is similar to that of olive oil. As such, I decided to reduce the amount of olive oil normally used in making pesto to compensate for the richness of pili nut.
edam cheese, queso de bola is a staple of the Philippine Christmas table, but its sharp, cheesy deliciousness is enjoyed year round with fruits, pandesal and jamon (soft bread roll and ham), and on sweet bibingka (broiled rice cake). Its flavor and texture, though just a bit softer than the Italian hard cheeses used in pesto, add just the right amount of saltiness to this fusion sauce.
Pesto alla Pilipinas
'Starting from scratch...' 'Drawing upon the old to enrich the new...' 'A pasta dish...'
If this post were a riddle (and believe me, the original iteration was an indecipherable enigma), you might have noted these clues as to the identity of my edible accompaniment. I referred to David Leibovitz's Pesto Recipe as a guide for this simple meal made simply. The resulting dish had just the right flavor for this blog post.
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp salt
2-3 cups malunggay leaves, washed & stripped from stems
1/2 cup finely grated queso de bola, plus extra for garnish
50 grams roasted plain pili nuts
2-3 Tbsps olive oil
8 oz/205 g linguine, cooked according to package directions
1 cup reserved pasta water
In a mortar, sprinkle garlic cloves with salt and pound with a pestle until smooth. Add malunggay leaves, a large handful at a time, and mash into the garlic, until all leaves are used and a thick paste is formed. Add olive oil and half of the cheese, then mash; add half of the nuts and mash again. Repeat with remaining cheese and nuts, pounding all the ingredients together until well-mixed into a paste. At this point, the pesto may be quite thick and clumpy - just set aside until pasta is cooked.
Cook linguine according to package directions. Before draining the noodles, reserve a cup of pasta water. Add the cooking water, one tablespoon at a time, to the pesto and stir to incorporate into the paste. Continue to add pasta water until desired consistency is reached.
Place cooked linguine into a large bowl, add the pesto and mix until the noodles are coated with sauce. Add grated queso de bola and serve immediately.