Pasta al Pesto di Pistacchio

What with all the traveling I've been doing and weddings I've been attending, plus the new job I've just started, I've been too busy to cook or bake much of anything -- there have been three posts in a row on this blog that have in fact been non-recipe posts, never before seen in Pancakes & Biscotti history. Things have finally calmed down a bit and I'm relieved to be back in my kitchen here in Rome, limited counter space and moody oven and all. This past weekend I've taken a nice deep breath and gotten to work sorting out some Summer-y recipes for you all (translation: recipes requiring as little heat as possible, as there is no air conditioning in my apartment). 

But let's talk about pesto, shall we? I happen to love pesto -- its easy and no-cook, for starters, and smells and tastes just like Summer -- but pesto and I didn't always get along so well. My mom made lots of it when I was growing up, and I was always baffled as to why one would ruin a perfectly good dish of pasta with stuff that was Oscar-the-Grouch green, a poor substitute for much tastier tomato sauce. As with most things I insisted I didn't like when I was little, all it took was me actually trying pesto to realize that actually, once you got past the startlingly green color -- more emerald than Grinch colored, actually -- it was good, great even, and that Summer I dove in to Pesto Land, helping my mom make things like pesto pizza and pesto lasagna for dinner. Pesto quickly scooted its way in to the same category as ricotta cheese, avocado, and citrus desserts, or rather, foods that I eventually grew to not just like but actually love in good time. As I have become much wiser with age, so have my taste buds, clearly. 

I can best describe today's Pistachio Pesto as pesto, but pesto with a Phd -- its pesto, yes, but its gone and gotten its degree, become a little smarter and more enriched and has probably published a few articles by now. The flavor is more nuanced and complex thanks to not just the typical flower-y basil but also bright, refreshing parsley; the pistachios have a stronger, nuttier, more substantial flavor than the mild-flavored pine nuts that you usually find in pesto. The garlic adds a little spicy sharpness and a boost of flavor, and the cheese, well -- a good dose of cheese is always a good idea, especially where pasta is concerned. Deliciousness aside, this recipe is also quick with minimal heat use (you just have to cook the pasta) and if you're anything like me you'll be making it all Summer long.

A couple of notes: This recipe is flexible -- you can substitute Parmesan cheese for the Grana Padano if you want, or if you have no pistachios on hand, walnuts work great (the flavor will be a bit different but still good). I'm not a huge garlic fan, so one clove was enough for me, but feel free to add another if you'd like. If its super hot out where you are, you can also eat the pasta and pesto at room temperature. Not in the mood for pasta? You can also serve this pesto with veggies, chicken, or fish. Finally, don't worry about the paper-y skins on the pistachios -- they blend right in to the pesto.

Looking for more pesto recipes? I've also got this classic Basil Pesto and this Sun-dried Tomato Pesto. Looking for more summer-y pistachio recipes? Allow me to recommend this Pistachio Semifreddo. Want another summer-y pasta recipe? Allow me to recommend this Spaghetti with Cherry Tomatoes and Basil.  


1 1/2 (packed) cups (40 grams) basil leaves
1 (packed) cup (20 grams) parsley
1/2 cup (70 grams) unsalted, toasted, and shelled pistachios
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons (30 grams) freshly grated Grana Padano cheese, plus more for serving
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup ( ) olive oil
1 pound (500 grams) pasta of your choice

Put a pot of water on to boil for the pasta.

In a food processor, blend the basil, parsley, pistachios, garlic, and salt, adding a steady stream of olive oil in through the feed as you go -- or, if you're like me and your food processor doesn't have a feed to pour the oil in to, just open the top of the food processor and added a little at a time as you blend (this worked fine for me). If of course you wanted to be really traditional about this you could also use a mortar and pestle (pestare, where pesto comes from, does mean to crush in Italian) but its too hot out for that, isn't it?!
Scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl as you go to make sure that all the ingredients have a chance to be blended in. Blend until the pistachios are finally chopped and your pesto is looking like the photo below -- this make take a little longer than you expected, at least if you have a mini food processor like I do, so be patient. Place the pesto in a bowl and stir in the cheese.
Salt the now boiling water and add whatever pasta you have selected -- follow the package instructions to make sure the pasta is al dente (I cooked the penne for 10 minutes). When the pasta is done, reserve a little of the starchy cooking water, then drain it. Place the pasta in the bowl, add the pesto, and toss until well combined, adding a little cooking water if necessary to bring everything together. Serve with more freshly grated cheese on top. Serves 4.

 Recipe slightly adapted from Lidia Bastianich.

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