Monferrato pesto (as we are calling it), is known in Italy as ‘agliata verde Monferrina‘ and is a typical Piedmont appetizer, originating in the northern hilly areas of Monferrato. We made our pesto with ricotta cheese since traditional Piemontese cheese are difficult to come by here in Florida.
The basic recipe involves the use of parsley, basil, celery, cheese and, of course, plenty of garlic. The origin of the recipe is said to date back to the Middle Ages. The simplicity of the ingredients tells of its peasant origins which, in those days, was used mainly as a condiment or as a preservative.
Today the vivid green agliata of Monferrato is used as a tasty appetiser to spread over crisp, toasted breads, croutons or as a dip to be enjoyed with bread sticks. But it is also an excellent sauce for pasta or to flavor sauce for fish dishes.
The original recipe involved the use of garlic pounded in a mortar, to which other herbs were added. Over the years, the recipe has evolved to include cheese, which makes it a little more robust. The cheeses used are toma or robiola, two fresh cheeses, both of course of Piedmontese origin.
Toma is a cheese with a sweet flavor that tends to become spicy with aging. The robiola is slightly fatter than the toma, and its flavor is stronger. In the making of agliata verde Monferrina, the use of one or the other cheese follows only personal taste. Other alternatives would be Brie, Camembert or Ricotta cheese made with sheep milk if possible, although we encourage experimentation!
Monferrina Pesto with ricotta
- 200 g whole milk ricotta, (at room temperature. Alternatively, Camembert, or Brie would work well too.)
- 25 g fresh parsley, (leaves and stems)
- 10 medium tender leaves from the heart of the celery
- 5 medium fresh basil leaves
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1 – 2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large clove of garlic
- fine sea salt and ground black pepper, (to taste)
Wash the parsley and celery well, dry them and put them in the mortar together with the basil leaves, wiped only with a damp cloth. Add two large cloves of garlic and crush everything to obtain a homogeneous mixture, add salt, pepper, the lemon zest, the lemon juice and enough of the olive oil to begin to obtain a soft paste.
Pour the mixture over the cheese, placed in a bowl, beating with a wooden spoon so that this herb dressing is incorporated into the cheese, obtaining a kind of cream with a bright green color.
When finished, pour the mixture into a small serving bowl, cover and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve