Near the end of every summer, I ask myself, "Why did I plant so much basil in the garden?" It always seems like a good idea in the spring, after a long winter without fresh basil. But, inevitably, we wind up being overrun by the stuff. And, one can only eat so many Caprese salads. Thank goodness, then, for pesto!
Pesto is more akin to a tapenade, really, than to a sauce. You can use it for all sorts of things, like spreading on sandwiches, fish, chicken and so on. Here is a really good, all-purpose pesto recipe suitable, as well, for pasta dishes. You could incorporate whatever type of pasta you prefer. I usually make pasta with pesto using either standard spaghetti or penne, as I did here.
2 cups of tightly packed fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. pine nuts
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 Tbsp. freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 lb. dried pasta or 1 1/2 lbs. fresh
Rinse the basil under cold water or in a salad spinner. Blot dry with paper towels.
Place the basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and a pinch of salt into a food-processor bowl. Process the mixture until you have a creamy consistency. If the mixture is too dry, add a splash more olive oil and pulse a little more.
Empty the basil puree into a bowl.
Mix the two cheeses in until thoroughly incorporated. Then, add the butter and mix until it is also thoroughly incorporated.
Cook pasta according to package directions to al dente, reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
Drain the pasta and place into a large bowl or onto a big serving plate. I like to add a tablespoon or two of the reserved pasta water to the pesto to thin it out a little, just before serving. Spoon the pesto over the cooked pasta and toss to thoroughly distribute the pesto throughout.
I prefer pasta with pesto at room temperature or lukewarm, not steaming hot. So, you might want to make it a little in advance and allow it to cool down a little. It's even great cold.
Photos by Ted Scheffler