Let me begin by telling you, before you suddenly leave the page, that this tastes a whole lot better than it looks in this picture. So here's the scenario: dinner is piping hot and ready to serve, partner is starving and hanging out for dinner, but wait I need to photograph it first before we can eat - and, oh no, camera batteries are flat and so are the spares. iPhone to the rescue thankfully to snap off a quick photo, but somehow it's just not the same. Nevertheless, this tasted incredibly good (think comfort food that's still good enough to impress company) - so keep reading.
This was my second assignment for the Cooking Italy group (a group dedicated to learning to cook Italian food through the recipes of Marcella Hazan from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking), and turned out to be another one of those "prepare everything ahead, assemble at the last minute" dishes that you know I love so much - the pesto and potatoes were prepared earlier in the day, then spaghetti and beans cooked, and dish assembled just before serving - as I just mentioned this dish is easily good enough for guests, and you won't be spending all your time in the kitchen instead of with your guests. I think this would also be good even with the pasta cooked early (maybe some of your favourite shapes, rather than spaghetti), and then everything assembled and served at room temperature as a salad.
Marcella says of this dish: "When serving pesto on spaghetti or noodles, the full Genoese treatment calls for the addition of boiled new potatoes and green beans. When all its components are right, there is no single dish more delicious in the entire Italian pasta repertory." I think she's right.
As far as the pesto goes, I wrote about it not so long ago in this post, so you know my feelings on the subject. Now I am certainly not going to go all "pesto-police" on you and tell you that you must make your own. However, it seems that the whole point of this dish is the pesto, so if you are only ever going to make pesto once in your life I would urge you to make it now. As to which method you should use, I recommend the mortar and pestle method (I really believe the texture and taste is superior), but if the thought of doing it by hand is the only thing that gets between you and making your own pesto then go right ahead and blitz it up in the food processor - instructions are given here for both methods. Regardless of whether you buy a ready-made pesto, or follow the recipe here, there is one unique ingredient to Marcella's pesto and that is the addition of some butter at the end. Sounds a bit weird I know, and I have to admit I was skeptical, but it works - it gave a lovely, velvety creaminess to the pesto, the magic of which I think is more apparent once it is actually incorporated in the dish, and it seemed to me also that once the butter was added the pesto somehow increased substantially in volume. So even if you use a store bought pesto in this dish, take the time to add the butter before tossing it through the pasta and vegetables.
A note about quantities - Marcella's original recipe states that it serves 6. To serve two people, I used exactly her recipe, but just cut down the quantity pasta. So my ratio of vegetables and "sauce" to pasta was probably considerably more than would be traditional, but I was pleased with the results and you should feel free to adjust quantities to suit your own tastes.
Spaghetti & Pesto with Potato & Green Beans Recipe
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's
Click here for printable copy
For the pesto:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
2 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
coarse sea salt, large pinch
1/2 cup finely grated parmigiano-reggiano
2 tablespoons finely grated pecorino romano
3 tablespoons butter, room temperature soft
Wash basil leaves in cold water, and gently pat dry with paper towels.
If making in a mortar and pestle: Put basil, garlic, pine nuts and salt into the mortar, and using the pestle grind everything into a paste. Add both cheeses and grind evenly into the mixture. Add the olive oil, pouring in a thin stream, beating into the mixture with a wooden spoon. Once it has all been incorporated, beat in the butter until evenly distributed through the pesto.
If making in a food processor: Put basil, olive oil, chopped garlic, pine nuts and salt into the bowl of the processor, and process to a creamy consistency. Remove from processor and transfer to a bowl, then mix the two cheeses in by hand. Then mix in the softened butter and beat until everything is thoroughly amalgamated.
For the pasta (for 2 people):
3 small new potatoes
250g young green beans
pesto, as above
250g spaghetti (or pasta of your choice)
Boil the potatoes, skins on, until just tender. Once cool enough to handle, peel and slice thinly.
Cut the ends off the beans and set aside.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt liberally. Add spaghetti to the rapidly boiling water to cook. Approximately 3 minutes before the spaghetti finishes cooking, add the beans into the pasta pot. Spaghetti should be al dente and beans cooked through, but neither too soft nor too hard.
Before draining the cooked pasta and beans, remove 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and stir into the pesto to loosen.
Drain, and toss the cooked pasta, beans and potatoes together with the pesto.
Serve immediately. I also sprinkled some extra grated parmesan over the top.