I feel the need apologize. I’ve been posting so many pasta dishes lately that I fear you’ll get bored with me. I’ll give you more variety, I promise. For now, though, let’s talk about this pesto sauce because I think you’d like it.
As easy as it is to make, pesto hasn’t always been part of my regular rotation in the kitchen. Honestly, it’s because until I learned how to prepare it to my liking, I’ve always regarded it as a so-so dish. My indifferent attitude went away when I finally tasted a pesto sauce I enjoyed. Ironically, it wasn’t in Italy, but in Portugal. After gorging on delicious roast chicken with piri-piri sauce for a few days, I had to satisfy a pasta craving. My husband and I found a lively Italian restaurant in the heart of Lisbon, not really expecting to be dazzled–the place showed all signs of being a tourist trap after all. Boy, was I wrong.
I didn’t even order the pasta with pesto–my husband did. But ever the gluttonous piggy that I am, I had to have a bite of his plate and I was hooked. The pesto was served simply with spaghetti. It was fresh, not too oily and most importantly, it was nutty. The pesto sauces I’d had until then had always been bland but in this case, the pine nuts were the star of the show. They held their own and balanced well with the pungent garlic, the sharp/salty parmigiano and the fresh basil. When we returned home, I vowed to recreate the pesto sauce I learned to love.
Let’s fast forward to today. It took some trial and error and consulting quite a few recipes but I finally got my pesto right. Two things worked for me: 1) Toast the nuts beforehand and 2) use a combination of pistachios and pine nuts. Toasting the nuts brings out the flavor and the nuttiness of the…well…nuts. By adding this step the nuts become more of an active participant in the dish. In my previous attempts, they didn’t really contribute much to the final product. Secondly, adding pistachios creates a fine balance of flavors that using pine nuts alone can’t match. I learned later that in Sicily, their famed pistachios are the only way to make Pesto alla Siciliana. Served on top of bucatini, a hollow spaghetti-like pasta, you’ve got an easy, healthy and satisfying dish.
I’m submitting this dish to this week’s Presto Pasta Nights. Check it out. It’s a weekly event showcasing other bloggers’ pasta specialties. I’ve gotten many ideas here myself.
Bucatini with Pistachio and Pine Nut Pesto
- 3 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves (I pack mine tightly)
- 1/2 cup olive oil (add more if you like a bit more oil in your pesto)
- 1/4 – 1/2 cup pine nuts (and/or combination pistachio and pine nuts) Toast in a dry pan for 2 – 3 minutes on medium heat until fragrant. Cool slightly before processing with basil leaves
- 2 – 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- Salt to taste
- 1/3 cup freshly grated parmigiano
- Juice of about half a lemon
Put all the ingredients, except the cheese, in a food processor and process until smooth. If you decide to add lemon–and I highly suggest it–add a tablespoon at a time until you are satisfied. I usually add two tablespoons while processing and add more later. Pour the sauce into a bowl and stir in the parmigiano. Stir into your favorite pasta. I like to drizzle extra olive oil and lemon to my plate.
This will be enough pesto for a pound of pasta with some leftover. Cover the unused portion with plastic wrap and refrigerate (or freeze). This will keep well for several days.