This is one of those recipes that separates the donne from the ragazze. Cook (or garden) long enough and you're sure to find yourself with a load of fresh basil, which will naturally lead you to to try your hand at making homemade pesto. It's just a few ingredients and, in theory, is super 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 The Factory Kitchen in Los Angeles or at or at Da Laura in the small Ligruian village or San Fruttuoso (Liguria being the origin of basil pesto!) where the lasagenette al pesto have 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!) 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 (I mean, that name alone is phenom, no?).
Sure, you could go a lot of directions and shapes of pasta but I'm a fan of the three main ways you see pesto served in Liguria: with the spiraled trofie pasta, with the long trenette noodles, or with ultra-thin lasagna sheets (liek the do at Da Laura) which are sometimes called mandilli di seta or silk handkerchiefs (love that name)! There's somehting 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 fold over on themselves so they look like a pile of green handkerchiefs when you serve them.
And, then there's this 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. The tips? Well, first I should clarify that this is not a traditional method. The ingredients in this pesto? Heck yes, but the method is bascially the opposite of every otehr recipe in terms of the order the ingredients are used. Here I do the following: 1) use a blender or food processor to make a more emulsified, creamier, and silkier sauce 2) start with the nuts and oil and make a loose "nut butter" that helps stabliize the mixture (ie keep it from separating) 3) add some of the basil soaking water to further up the silkiness (ie the emulsification)
But most important of all 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 rewareded with a pesto that stays bright green all the way to the table!
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-American, that's like asking you to be my family.
no thick stems or buds (you'll need about 4 ounces of basil on the stems to get this about of leaves)
plus more for pasta water
about 3 ounces
about 1 1/2 ounces
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)
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, prepare the pesto.
To Make The Creamy Bail 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.
Pesto can be made up to 1 day ahead; store covered in the refrigerator until ready to use.
To 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 thickeness 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.
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
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