Basil is at it’s summer peak right now! Fellow foodies, I know you recognize the necessity of that exclamation point, and the significance of this joyous equation: Basil = Pesto! Now that is the kind of math I can comprehend.
While there are countless ways to incorporate fresh basil pesto into summer dishes, hands-down my favorite is classic Penne Genovese. The ‘Genovese’ is after the Ligurian city of Genoa, the ‘pesto capital’ if you will, of Italy.
Most traditionally Pesto Genovese is served with a thin, twisted pasta called Trofie or with Penne’s triangular cousin, Trenette. If those are difficult to find, use Penne. Also traditionally, pesto (which comes from the Italian verb ‘pestare’ or ‘to pound’) is made using a mortar and pestle, but you can substitute a food processor.
This dish which includes blanched green beans and thinly sliced new potatoes is in my opinion the most triumphant way to display peak-season summer pesto. The pesto is used to dress the pasta as you would a salad, so that the pesto just clings to it. It’s sheer summer perfection on a plate.
It is crucial that you blanch the basil first, to prevent it from oxidizing (turning murky army-greenish-brown) after it gets all chopped up. Pesto can be fully prepared and frozen until ready to use – just defrost a few hours ahead in the fridge or at room temperature. Now that you know this, no excuses for letting an unused bunch of basil go to waste!
classic penne genovese
- 1 bunch basil leaves, rinsed
- 1 garlic clove, halved
- 2 Tbs pine nuts, toasted
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/4 cup grated parmigiano
- 1/2 lb green beans, ends trimmed and beans cut in half
- 1/2 new red potatoes, scrubbed and sliced thinly
- 1 lb trofie, trenette or penne pasta
- 1/2 cup reserved pasta cooking water
1. Make the pesto: Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and bring to a boil. Have ready a bowl of ice water. Add a pinch of salt and the basil leaves to the boiling water and blanch 30 seconds. Remove the basil with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into the ice bath. When cooled, wring basil dry squeezing out as much water as possible, roughly chop and put in the bowl of a food processor. To the processor add the halved garlic clove, toasted pine nuts and salt. Pulse to coarsely chop. Then with the machine running, add the olive oil in a thin stream. Scrape down the sides if needed and pulse again. Taste and adjust for salt. Scrape pesto into a small bowl and stir in the cheese. Set aside.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Have ready another ice bath. When water comes to a boil, add 1 tsp salt and the green beans. Cook 3-4 minutes, under tender but still crisp. Remove to the ice bath with a slotted spoon. Return water to a boil and add the potatoes, cooking about 5 minutes until fork-tender but not mushy. Remove to a large serving bowl and add the cooled green beans. Return water to a boil and add the penne, tasting 2 minutes prior to package cooking time and removing to serving bowl with a large spider when just al dente, typically 1-2 minutes prior to package cooking time. Ladle 1/2 cup pasta cooking water into the serving bowl and add the pesto. Stir to combine. If desired, thin out further with additional pasta water. Serve at room temperature
Serves 6 side dish portions/4 main portions
Recipe adapted from William Sonoma – Essentials of Italian