Tomato and Wild Mint Pesto
1 ½ c
loosely packed fresh pulieio (or the best mint you can find)
1 ½ c
loosely packed fresh basil or parsley
extra virgin olive oil
peperoncino or red pepper flakes
14-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
Roma tomatoes, halved
Pulieio in dialect—puleggio in Italian—is a wild herb from the Irpinia subregion of Campania. It’s similar to mint, but with a more intense and persistent flavor and aroma. Locally, it’s used for both medicine and food thanks to its digestive and anti-inflammatory properties. Here this tomato-enriched pulieio pesto dish is a terrific reminder that in Irpinia, food doesn’t just provide sustenance—it’s seen as medicine, a fact that is reinforced by the menthol and balsamic notes of the sauce. If you can’t get your hands on pulieio, fresh mint (the wilder, the better) makes a fine substitute.
- In a mortar, crush the garlic and a heavy pinch of salt into a paste with a pestle. Begin adding the mint and basil little by little. Add a bit of olive oil, but only as much as the herbs need in order to hydrate into a paste, no more than 3 tablespoons. If you add too much oil, the pesto will quickly turn from green to a blackish-olive color.
- Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the oil begins to shimmer, add the pesto and cook, stirring frequently, for several minutes. Add the peperoncino and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the canned and Roma tomatoes, season with salt, and simmer until the tomatoes begin to fall apart and the sauce begins to thicken, about 25 minutes.