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Salt & Wind Travel

Mandilli Pasta with Creamy Pesto Sauce

This Mandilli Pasta with Creamy Pesto Sauce is a dish that separates the donne from the ragazze. Not because it’s difficult but because it’s elegant and sophisticated and just one small tweak from how you normally make your pesto takes it from zero to hero. 

I first made a version of this recipe for my Food Network cooking show, Ask Aida, but it was a pesto lasagna inspired by a dish I’d had in Genoa, Italy. This recipe has now become one of the highest reviewed recipes on this site and I personally always have some of it in my freezer for a quick weeknight meal. 

Mandilli Pasta with Creamy Pesto Sauce

Why You’ll Love This Recipe

If you are like me, and you like gardening, you’ll most likely find yourself in midsummer with a load of fresh basil. At which time you will naturally try your hand at making a homemade creamy pesto sauce recipe. Well, look no further, this Mandilli Pasta with Creamy Pesto is perfect. It’s just a few ingredients and, in theory, is super easy, so why not, right?

Recipe Ingredients

These are the ingredients you’ll need to make this Mandilli Pasta with Creamy Pesto recipe:

  • Fresh Basil Leaves
  • Pine Nuts
  • Extra-Virgin Olive Oil
  • Garlic
  • Kosher Salt
  • Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese
  • Pecorino Romano Cheese 
  • Fresh Lasagna Sheets or Mandilli Pasta 

How To Make Mandilli Pasta with Creamy Pesto

These are the instructions to make this recipe:

  • Boil The Water: Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
  • Make The Creamy Basil Pesto: Place basil in cold water and set aside to soak briefly. Meanwhile, combine nuts, oil, garlic and salt in food processor or blender and process until mixture is very smooth and creamy.
    Drain soaked basil, shake off water but don’t pat dry. Tear and place in food processor and process until just evenly combined and mixture is light green. Add cheese and just pulse until just combined.
  • Make The Mandilli Di Seta Basil Pasta: One by one add the pasta squares to the boiling water and cook until just al dente.
    Meanwhile reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Place 1 cup of the pesto in a large frying pan (do not place it on any heat). When the pasta squares are cooked remove them from the water using a perforated spoon then gently add them to the sauce.
    Stir gently to coat — each sheet should be coated in the sauce and there should be enough sauce in the pan to just coat the bottom.  Once the pasta is ready, top with additional cheese and serve immediately.

How To Serve This Recipe

The classic way to serve creamy pesto sauce is tossed with a homemade pasta dough recipe or, in Genoa, slathered on the local focaccia di Recco. Of course, here in the states, you’ll also find pesto used as a condiment on sandwiches, as a sauce for grilled salmon or roasted chicken, or as a thicker dressing for roasted or grilled vegetables. None of those are traditional but they are delicious!

The Pursuit For A Creamy Pesto Sauce

To me, a creamy pesto sauce was one of those dishes that I could never quite make as delicious as in restaurants.

Like, say at The Factory Kitchen in Los Angeles where they made a name for themselves serving up Handkerchief Pasta with Creamy Pesto Sauce. Or at Da Laura in the small Ligurian village of San Fruttuoso (Liguria being the origin of basil pesto!) where the lasagnette al pesto has classic basil pesto sauces that are so silky they look like paint.

We can debate all day about the best way to make (in a mortar and pestle! with a food processor!) and serve pesto (on pasta! on a sandwich! as part of Chicken Parm!) but perfectly coating pasta is the way I dream of it.

So, here they are, my recipe for Mandilli di Seta, aka Handkerchief Pasta with Creamy Pesto Sauce (I mean, that name alone is phenom, no?).

Use This Non-Traditional Method (That Mimics The Traditional Method)

First I should clarify that this is not a traditional method. The ingredients in this creamy pesto sauce? Heck yes, they’re traditional. But the method is basically the opposite of every other recipe in terms of the order the ingredients are used. I first heard of this technique when chef Danny Bowien used it to win the world pesto championship in 2008. While this is not chef Bowien’s recipe, it is a phenomenal version that is now known as one of the most popular recipes from my cookbook, Keys To The Kitchen

The most traditional way to make pesto sauce is in a mortar and pestle and it’s a technique worth trying at least once. Here we’re making a pestos sauce more akin to the silky, smooth pesto sauces you’ll see in high-end restaurants.

Here are the keys:

  • Use A Blender: Use a blender or food processor to make a more emulsified, creamier, and silkier sauce
  • Make A “Nut Butter:” Start with the nuts and oil and make a loose sort “nut butter” that helps stabilize the mixture (ie keep it from separating)
  • Add A Touch Of Water: Add some of the basil soaking water to further up the silkiness (ie the emulsification).

A Few Other Popular Sauces

The final question we get about this Mandilli Pasta with Creamy Pesto Sauce recipe is how to switch it up. Yes, you could swap the nuts, herbs, or cheeses as you please to make Arugula-Walnut pesto, Almond Pesto, or even sundried tomatoes, basil, and almonds for a twist on the Sicilian red pesto.

But, honestly, at that point (especially if you’re using it more as a condiment), we usually just turn to one of these other pesto-like green sauces:

Okay, now it’s time to stock up your pantry with all the essential ingredients, then try your hand at making this, and then share your creation with us by tagging @saltandwind and #swsociety on social!

Frequently Asked Questions

You could go in a lot of directions and shapes of pasta but I'm a fan of the three main ways you see pesto served in Liguria (aka ground zero for classic basil pesto).

Those classic pasta shapes are the spiraled trofie pasta, with the long trenette noodles, or with ultra-thin lasagna sheets (like they do at Da Laura) which are sometimes called mandilli di seta or silk handkerchiefs (love that name)!

There's something about pesto served coating mandilli di seta (think sheets of pasta that are generally half the thickness of traditional lasagna sheets) that is totally luxurious. After the mandilli are coated in the pesto they're then folded over on themselves so they look like a pile of green handkerchiefs when you serve them.

A classic pesto sauce will not have cream but will be have cream consistency. The key is to create a lovely emulsification of oil and nuts that you can then add in the other ingredients. I do that by using a trick I learned from a chef. Essentially you grind the pine nuts and oil into a nut butter and then add the other ingredients. It's the opposite of how you would do it if you were making a traditional pesto in a mortar and pesto; however, the result is sublime!

The most important thing is that you never ever heat a homemade classic pesto sauce. Yes, there are plenty of recipes that call for doing this (probably even a few I wrote earlier on in my recipe developing life) but that just ends up totally working all the flavors in the delicate sauce.

Use the technique below for coating pasta (as in mixing it together in the cooking pan off the heat) and you'll be rewarded with a creamy pesto sauce that stays bright green all the way to the table!

Mandilli Pasta with Creamy Pesto Sauce

{Mandilli di Seta} Silky Handkerchief Pasta with Creamy Basil Pesto Recipe

Creamy, vibrant, and flavorful, this Creamy Basil Pesto recipe is one of the absolute best version of pesto sauce that you'll find.
4.9 from 8 votes
Prep Time 25 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 16 servings
Calories 252 kcal

Ingredients
  

For The Creamy Basil Pesto:

  • 4 cups fresh basil leaves no thick stems or buds (you'll need about 4 ounces of basil on the stems to get this about of leaves)
  • 3/4 cup pine nuts
  • 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic roughly chopped
  • 1 pinch kosher salt plus more for pasta water
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese about 3 ounces
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese about 1 1/2 ounces

For The Pasta:

  • 1 pound fresh lasagna sheets or mandilli di seta pasta (if you buy fresh lasagna, look for the thinnest you can find and trim them into 5-inch by 5-inch squares)

Instructions
 

  • Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare the pesto. 
  • Make The Creamy Basil 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 peanut or 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.
  • Make The Mandilli Di Seta Basil 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 thickness of the pasta).
    Meanwhile reserve about 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Place 1 cup of the pesto in a large frying pan (do not place it on any heat). When the pasta squares are cooked remove them from the water using a perforated spoon then gently add them to the sauce (it's okay if the pasta sheets have water on them -- it'll help make the sauce coast the pasta well!).
    Stir gently to coat -- each sheet should be coated in the sauce and there should be enough sauce in the pan to just coat the bottom. If the mixture is dry, add a few spoonfuls of the reserved pasta cooking water. Once the pasta is ready, top with additional cheese and serve immediately.
    Makes 2 cups pesto (enough for 2 to 3 pounds of pasta)

PERSONAL NOTES

Nutrition

Serving: 1 servingCalories: 252kcalCarbohydrates: 17gProtein: 8gFat: 18gSaturated Fat: 3gPolyunsaturated Fat: 4gMonounsaturated Fat: 9gCholesterol: 28mgSodium: 148mgPotassium: 116mgFiber: 0.3gSugar: 0.3gVitamin A: 393IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 124mgIron: 2mg
Keyword basil recipe, Classic italian recipe, italian pasta sauce
Tried this recipe?Mention @saltandwind or tag #swsociety!

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