Okay, friends, this is one of those recipes that separates the donne from the ragazze. Cook (or garden) long enough and you're sure to try your hand at making homemade pesto. It's really easy, so why not, right? But, for me, it used to be one of those dishes that I could never quite make as delicious as in restaurants. Like say at San Fran's Farina or LA's The Factory Kitchen where the pesto is so silky it looks like paint or pretty much any self-respecting restaurant in the province of Liguria (aka pesto's home state).
We can debate all day about the best way to make and serve pesto but this is the way I dream of it: Mandilli di Seta, aka Handkerchief Pasta with Creamy Pesto (I mean, that name alone is phenom, no?). Sure, you could go a lot of directions and shapees with the pasta but there's somehting about mandilli (think super thin lasagna sheets) that are totally luxurious. You want them to coat in the pesto then fold over on themselves so they truly look like a pile of green handkerchiefs when you serve them.
And, then the pesto. If you know me, then you know I take great pride in this recipe. It took me years to crack the code on how to make such a creamy pesto without any cream. So, when I say I'm sharing one of my all-time best pasta sauces and showing you my all-time favorite way to serve it? Well, for this Italian, that's like asking you to be my family.
about 2 ounces
plus more for pasta water
about 2 1/2 ounces
about 1 1/2 ounces
(the thinner the pasta the better) trimmed into 5-inch by 5-inch squares
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare the pesto.
For the pesto: Place basil in cold water and set aside to soak briefly, at least 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine nuts, oil, garlic and salt in food processor or blender (the Vitamix is awesome for this) and process until mixture is very smooth and creamy (it should look like a loose almond butter). Drain soaked basil, shake off water but don’t pat dry (you want some of that water). Tear and place in food processor and process until just evenly combined and mixture is light green, about 5 pulses. Add cheese and just pulse until just combined, about 5 pulses more. If mixture is too thick, add a few spoonfuls of cold water and pulse again. Remove from carafe and taste. Add more salt, as desired, then go ahead and use the pesto.
Pesto can be made up to 1 day ahead; store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the pasta: One by one add the pasta squares to the boiling water and cook until just al dente, about 3 minutes (may be more or less depending on the thickeness of the pasta). Meanwhile place about the pesto in a large pan and about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water, heat over the lowest heat, and stir until just warm (you don't want to cook the sauce but just barely warm it up so it loosens – you could even just keep the heat off and just rely on the warm pasta water). Remove the pasta sheets from the water using a perforated spoon then gently add them to the sauce. Stir gently to coat then serve immediately topped with additional cheese.
Pesto is classically tossed with pasta but can also be used as a sandwich condiment, mixed with mayonnaise, as a last minute sauce for grilled fish, as a pizza sauce, or stirred into soup just before serving
Food styling and photography by Aida Mollenkamp