Back from vacations with an all-time favorite traditional basil pesto pasta with a secret ingredient! I cannot wait to kick-start a new season of delicious, healthy Mediterranean food and so much more!
Not ready for the winter yet, we are “welcomed” by a Mediterranean hurricane named “Medicane” that brings several inches of rain, damaging wind gusts (60 MPH at times), and rough seas. Well, this is a seriously bad weather for the Mediterranean standards. How the summer disappeared so fast? I am still tanned and I wear my jacket! So crazy!
The news about this mini hurricane was all over the media and I decided that I had to save my basil plants. So, I harvested earlier this year and that was a very wise decision because it is unlikely to have survived this weather. The house smelled fabulous for at least 2 days and I stored a lot of basil (see how below tip #5).
I can hardly think of a better, easier and tastier Mediterranean dish than basil pesto pasta. The fact that it is a pasta dish is a bonus, of course, but the king of that recipe is homemade basil pesto that, when it is made right, results in a mind-blowing pasta dish. I am telling you that loving this dish is an understatement in my house. It’s like a celebration every single time because tasteful, real food can make people happier and bring more joy around the table. It is so delicious that it almost feels like a tiny explosion in your mouth from the first bite.
Moreover, making basil pesto is so fun that my sons are fighting over helping me along. It is that easy to make. They harvest the basil leaves from the pot, they wash them and dry as thoroughly as they can, combine the ingredients in a food processor and …boom… homemade basil pesto is done!! By a 4 and 9-year-old boys, for crying out loud!
Pesto sauce is a really popular one and you will find thousands of recipes around the web. However, no matter how I research, I cannot find the version I make in my home. It is a traditional pesto Genovese recipe that a wonderful Italian friend was generous enough to share. In fact, she had invited me to her place and we made it together. What makes this recipe unique is an additional ingredient of the usual duo basil-pine nut which is boiled and mashed potato. You guys, this is big time brilliant cooking! You make more basil pesto sauce without sacrificing basil’s flavor and you end up with a richer, creamier and starchier pesto sauce that remains chunky at the same time! Just the way we like it! Anyone with me here?
My Italian friend was serious about making basil pesto: a food processor or blender is out of the question. Grab a sharping knife and chop all the basil and pine nuts or a pestle and mortar because that is how you get the perfect basil pesto consistency and the full flavorful potential of basil leaves. Hmmm… Right! With all due respect to the traditional way of making basil pesto, I have never (ever) found the time (or the patience) to chop or pound all those ingredients by hand. So make it easy on yourself, take out your food processor and make a delicious basil pesto sauce in a few minutes (sorry, dear Enéa).
Furthermore, skip the garlic and the parmesan or pecorino cheese for this recipe. By all means, you may adjust the ingredients to your taste but this pesto variation includes neither garlic nor parmesan cheese. Therefore, this recipe is totally vegan-friendly and extremely convenient when you invite for dinner people with different preferences, food restrictions and eating philosophy.
#1 Making basil pesto in a food processor doesn’t mean dump everything in it and start mixing. The bruising basil becomes bitter, its magnificent green color turns brown and the nuts can easily turn your pesto sauce into an oily concrete-like paste. Not good! The key to a perfect pesto sauce consistency is to roughly chop with a knife the basil and the nut before mixing everything in the food processor. Following this technique, the ingredients will need less time to be mechanically combined and small chunks of basil and nuts will give texture to the sauce.
#2 The addition of potato will amaze you. No doubt about it. It absorbs some of the pesto’s oiliness and binds the sauce so smoothly. It is friendly-child too because the potato mellows the pesto out a bit and I am sure it will be appreciated by many kids who aren’t fond of that explosion in your mouth already mentioned above.
#3 Toasting pine nuts is optional to my book but you may play your own game and go for it. It takes no more than 5 minutes, so why not? Feel free to use other nuts like walnuts, pecan, sunflower seeds but I highly recommend pine nuts (I know they are outrageously expensive almost everywhere).
#4 Store pesto in a jar in the fridge. Drizzle olive oil over the top just to cover the surface. Seal closed to keep pesto green and fresh. If you cover the pesto with olive oil, it will keep for a few weeks in the fridge.
#5 Lack of cheese, this recipe is perfect for freezing too up to 3 months before switching it to the fridge. A perfect and quick way to freeze basil pesto is to store it in a Ziploc bag, squeeze as much air out it before sealing and then lay it flat on a baking sheet until frozen. You may easily break off as much as I’d like and defrost in a few minutes. Easy peasy!
- 2 cups basil leaves
- ½ cup pine nuts
- ½ cup oil
- A small potato, cubed
- 1 pound (500grams) pasta (preferably linguini or fusilli)
- Salt, pepper
- In a small pot, add the cubed potato into boiled and salted water. Boil for 10-12 minutes. Drain and set aside to cool. Use a fork to mash it.
- Fill ⅔ of a large pot with water and bring to boil. Add salt (1-2 tablespoons) and the pasta. Drizzle some olive oil and stir to avoid pasta from sticking while boiling.
- Place the lid back on the pot to bring the water back to a boil for a few minutes and remove it to prevent pasta from boiling over.
- Meanwhile, roughly chop basil leaves and pine nuts and add them in a food processor with some salt. Pulse for a few seconds just to break down the leaves into smaller pieces. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
- With the food processor running slowly, drizzle in the olive oil until a paste is formed. Add the mashed potato into the pesto sauce and mix together with just a spoon. Taste and season with more salt and pepper.
- See the package directions for pasta cook times. Test some pasta 2-3 minutes before the instructions cooking time. The pasta should be firm to bite (“al dente”). Turn off the heat.
- If the basil pesto sauce is frozen, add it in a large pan on low heat for a few minutes just to warm it up. Turn off the heat. With a pasta grabber (or just a fork), grab the pasta right from the pot and transfer it into the pan. No need to drain. Stir and add hot pasta water to loosen sauce to your desired consistency.
- Serve right away with plenty of parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper.