FARINA Italian Restaurant San Francisco Reveals Secrets of Award-Winning Pesto Execution

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Of all the exceptional Italian dishes served in San Francisco, one rises to the top again and again: FARINA's Mandilli di seta al pesto, a handmade, handkerchief pasta laced with a sublime portion of FARINA's World Championship pesto.

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FARINA’s famous Mandilli di seta al pesto.

This recipe, really, is from my grand-grand-mama.

FARINA's signature pesto dish is a favorite of guests and food critics. The creamy, bright-green sauce won the 2008 Genoa Pesto World Championship. Executive Chef Paolo Laboa says what makes his pesto stand out is using the finest ingredients, carefully preparing every batch by hand, and making it from the heart.

“The bright green pesto has bold flavors, but is as smooth and silken as a hollandaise,” raved Michael Bauer, food critic for the San Francisco Chronicle.

The pesto and pasta recipe were passed down through several generations of Laboa’s family. Laboa prepares FARINA’s pesto in the authentic Genoese style, the birthplace of pesto.

“This recipe, really, is from my grand-grand-mama,” said Laboa. The basil is specially grown for FARINA by a local farmer whose land has a climate and soil similar to the Genoese terrior. The pine nuts, pecorino and parmigiano cheeses, and olive oil are imported directly from Italy.

The pine nuts are imported from Pisa, Tuscany. They contain oils that form the binding element of the pesto. “When pine nuts are too greasy or bitter, like the cheaper pine nuts imported from other areas of the world, they destroy the flavor of the pesto,” said Luca Minna, co-founder of FARINA.

The light, delicate olive oil is imported from the region of Liguria, Italy, which produces the world’s mildest extra-virgin olive oil. “We don’t need the robust flavors of the oils of Tuscany or Puglia where the sun is strong,” said Minna. “The milder climate of Liguria allows the olives to ripen more slowly, so the flavor of the oil is delicate.”

To make the award-winning pesto, Laboa first soaks the basil in water, which removes some of the chlorophyll giving the leaf a delicate flavor. Using a mortar and pestle, he grinds the pine nuts with coarse salt, which gives them a creamy texture. He then grinds in the basil leaves and olive oil. Finally, Laboa spoons in the grated pecorino and parmigiano cheeses, and—“finito!”

The sauce is served over gossamer sheets of mandilli pasta made simply of fine imported Italian “00” flour, eggs and white wine. The pasta is kneaded by hand, stretched thin, and sliced into rectangles. Mandilli is perhaps the lightest pasta diners have ever experienced. When Laboa holds up the stretched dough, it is translucent. The folded sheets of handmade pasta are coated with the freshly made pesto, making a light and exceptional dish that pairs perfectly with a crisp glass of white wine.

“It feels like a unique execution,” said Marcia Gagliardi, founder of Tablehopper.com. “People do not make pasta like this around town.”

Beyond the commitment to authenticity and painstaking preparation, the celebrated pesto is made with love. “It’s very important, when working in a restaurant, to put in a lot of passion and heart, as if you were doing it at home,” declared Laboa. “The difference found in the food is really the element of the heart.”

FARINA is a San Francisco Italian restaurant that specializes in traditional Northern Italian, Ligurian cuisine. Grounded in tradition, FARINA is the antithesis of faddish here-today-gone-tomorrow hip food. From the chic yet functional design of the San Francisco Mission District restaurant to the homegrown recipes Chef Laboa learned at his grandmother’s side to the infinite well of ideas that spring from its founders—FARINA is redefining Italian dining in San Francisco.

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