Pane al Pesto and Bilious Emesis

The preparation of this bread begs a thoughtful reflection on green vomitus–bilious emesis–(words which sound like honorary degrees at Hogwarts) in the context of my current assignment in the pediatric emergency department (where Frozen’s hit song “Let It Go!” blares from personal DVD players behind every curtain in contention with the equally unsettling sounds of screaming babies and sniffling toddlers). Should something resembling this particular puree launch in projectile fashion from the mouths of babes, perhaps a variation on this medical differential should come to mind: small bowel obstruction with meconium plug and ileus, Hirschsprung disease, some kind of intestinal atresia distal to the distal duodenum, intussusception, midgut volvulus or malrotation, crazy organomegaly causing obstruction, peritonitis, annular pancreas, gut perforation, toxic ingestion, April Fool’s Day prank if the baby is a savant, St. Patrick’s Day green beer intoxication if the parents have horrible judgment, or, lest we not get too self-assured, a severe adverse reaction to my pesto bread. Basically, call a surgeon, image the gut. And then get back to bread baking, because we know that kind of restorative home-making cures a world of ails.


Pane al Pesto

Adapted from The Italian Baker

First, the Pesto — grow a basil plant, first and foremost


1 cup (75 grams) fresh basil leaves

3/4 cup (75 grams) grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons pine nuts or chopped walnuts (really,  no substitute for the pinenuts. They are expensive, but WORTH it)

1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Purée all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with the steel blade or a blender [food processor does a much better job of this]. While you wait for the ingredients to blend, review the differential diagnosis on bilious emesis. Try not to induce said emesis with detailed imaginings. 


Measure  out ½ cup for this recipe. –Note: the first time I attempted this loaf, I thought, as I often do with spices, more will taste better. I think I added an entire cup of pesto. This weighed down the bread and made it almost un-rise-able. Stick to the ½ cup. It is flavor enough. And think of all the fun things you can do with the remainder pesto—to be smeared onto unsuspecting fusilli, onto grilled fresh fish, onto pizza, onto the face of your spouse.



1 ½ cup sourdough starter

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons warm water

Scant 2 tablespoons olive oil

3 3/4 cups (500 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour (substitute whole wheat as you dare, the first time I tried to do a half white/wheat blend, as I often do for the sake of my vascular endothelium, but the runt loaf could not rise under the weight, like, at all.)

2 teaspoons (10 grams) salt


By hand:  Stir the starter into the water in a mixing bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the oil and 1/2 cup pesto thoroughly. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Stir until the dough comes together. Knead on a floured surface until soft, velvety, and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

By mixer:  Stir the yeast into the water in a mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the oil and 1/2 cup pesto thoroughly with the paddle. Mix the flour and salt and add to the yeast mixture. Mix until well moistened. Change to the dough hook and knead until the dough is velvety and medium soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Finish kneading briefly by hand on a lightly floured surface.

First rise. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/4 hours.

Shaping and second rise. Cut the dough in half on a lightly floured surface. Punch each piece down and knead briefly to expel the air. Shape each piece into a round loaf. Place each loaf, seam side down, on an oiled baking sheet or a peel sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. The dough must be very relaxed and fully risen before it should be baked, so don’t rush it.


Baking. Heat the oven to 450 degrees F. If you are using baking stones, turn the oven on 30 minutes before baking and sprinkle the stones with cornmeal just before sliding the loaves onto them. Place the loaves in the oven and immediately reduce the heat to 400°F. Bake 35 to 40 minutes, spraying 3 times with water in the first 10 minutes, if you want. Cool completely on racks.


2 thoughts on “Pane al Pesto and Bilious Emesis

  1. Nice-looking loaf.

    Which version of The Italian Baker have you got? Old or Revised?

    BTW, do you have stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) in your part of the world Rachel? They’re just perfect for gathering here now, and are great for pesto. Don’t care if some people might consider it inauthentic – it’s cheap and nutritionally awesome (7.8mg iron per 100g, even spinach only has 4.1mg, curly kale 1.9mg; 630mg calcium, kale a third of that; 333mc per 100g VitC, kale 105mc). I’ve just done some pesto with nettles and wild garlic (Allium ursinum).

    1. Old version, and it’s not mine, it’s on loan from my baking guru (an arbourist and Renaissance-y sort of man). Hmm, regarding the nettles, I know I sat on some in Oregon when I was at a third grade girls camp, gave me a rip roaring rash on my backside. Never realized their health food potential, I’ll go check in our granola farmers market to see if I can get some locally to test in my next pesto. Thanks for the tip!

Leave a Reply