Brief research into the history and etymology of the word pesto reveals a different story than opined in the recent article, "Pesto Goes Rogue" (Sept. 19).
Like many culinary icons pesto derives its name from the vessel in which it is originally made (paella, catapalana, terrine, tart, etc.), in this case the mortar and pestle.
Pesto is the past participle of the Italian verb pestare, to pound. The naming of the bowl and its various outputs came therefrom. In fact, the first herbal, garlic and oil paste made and employed by the Romans was called morteum.
While basil was likely an ingredient in some of those original herbaceous blends, the credit for using solely Ocimum basilicum pounded with these other ingredients into a paste we would recognize today as Pesto Genovese is generally given to the Provence region of France and the preparation called pistou.
The word basil derives from the Greek basileus, meaning king, and I am a huge fan — it is indeed the king of herbs. Please do not mistake my defense of language as an assault on the throne!
Language evolves, but not always for the better. Many people, including most chefs and culinary celebs, say carmelize instead of caramelize. There is no such thing as carmel, therefore nothing can be carmelized. The biblical Mt. Carmel has nothing to do with Maillard process, the scientific term for caramelization or browning.
Confusing matters more, chefs' creative linguistic license further distances many diners from culinary comprehension and competency.
But, presumably, people reading TT participate in food awareness, education, preparation, and may have dined out enough to come across myriad pesto recipes ranging from the true king to an entire court of others: parsley, sundried tomato, cilantro, edamame, roasted pepper, etc. Twenty-five years ago this was cutting edge, not today.
Raymond Norman, Eureka