5-Minute Basil Pesto

Gemelli with 5-Minute Basil Pesto
Gemelli with 5-Minute Basil Pesto

Got 5 minutes? You can be eating pasta with fresh and flavorful basil pesto, pesto alla Genovese, in no time.

This pesto hails from Liguria on the northern Italian coast where small leaf basil grows on the hills around Genoa overlooking the Italian Riviera. The roots of North Beach’s Liguria Bakery, famous for it’s foccacia, are in this region of Italy.

I don’t have Ligurian basil so I’m using organic Bay Area basil instead. You can use your local basil as well. Traditionally the pesto is made with a mortar and pestle but I’m using a food processor. It’s fast and yields a fine paste.

The main ingredients are basil, pine nuts (pinoli), garlic, grated parmigiano and pecorino, and a really good extra virgin olive oil. Use the best ingredients you can afford.

Pine nuts from China are prevalent in the market and cheaper but they taste waxy and don’t have the full, clean, nutty flavor of Italian pine nuts so buy Italian pinoli if you can.

The Ligurian version is usually made with trenette, a flat long pasta or trofie, a short twisted pasta. I used gemelli (twins) a short twisted pasta pretty close to the hard to find trofie.

This is an uncooked sauce. Just process all the ingredients in a food processor. The pesto will be ready way before the pasta water comes to a boil.

The short twisted toothy gemelli burst with fresh flavor. The aromatic basil immediately tingles your tongue followed by the nutty flavor of the pinoli and buttery olive oil. The parmigiano, pecorino and just an echo of fresh garlic round out each bite. So simple and so delicious.

A few years ago we got lucky on a visit to Rome. My friend Guiliano who lives in the historical center had just returned from visiting his family in Genoa and he invited us over for dinner. He brought just-picked Ligurian basil back with him and he was making pesto for us. He added cubes of potato and green beans to the pasta and coated it all with the best pesto I’ve ever eaten.

For my American friends adding potato and green beans to this dish is controversial. I like it that way but many don’t. They just want pasta coated with basil pesto. Try it both ways and see which you prefer.

If you want to make the traditional Genovese version, cut the potato in 1/2 chunks. Cut off the stem end of the green beans and cut them into 2-inch pieces. When the pasta water comes to a boil add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes then add the green beans and cook for another 5 minutes. Then add the pasta and cook to al dente. Strain the pasta, potatoes and beans out of the water, put them all in a bowl, add the pesto and mix to coat everything well.

Basil pesto is the most famous but there are many, many more. Try my Pesto Trapanese from Sicily with cherry tomatoes and almonds for a different taste treat. It’s one of 3 sauces I made for my potato gnocchi.

Buon appetito!

5-Minute Basil Pesto
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound (500 grams) gemelli or your favorite short cut pasta
  • 3 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ tablespoon sea salt plus 3 tablespoons for the pasta water
  • ⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to cover the pesto
  • ¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigianno-Reggiano
  • 2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
Instructions
  1. Put 5 quarts of water with 3 tablespoons of sea salt over high heat and bring it to a boil.
  2. In the meantime, put the basil, garlic, salt, and olive oil in the food-processor bowl. Process 10 to 15 seconds, stopping once to scrape down the sides of the bowl, to form a coarse paste.
  3. Put the pine nuts in the food processor and process another 10 seconds, scrape down the bowl midway, until you create a uniform, smooth bright-green paste.
  4. Add the grated cheeses to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine.
  5. The pesto should be thick but flowing. If it is to stiff add a bit more olive oil.
  6. The pesto will be fine at room temperature until you cook the pasta. (If you keep it out longer, cover the top of the pesto with a thin layer of extra virgin olive oil so it doesn't discolor.)
  7. Cook the pasta to al dente, strain and put into a bowl. (Reserve some of the pasta cooking water.)
  8. Add the pesto and mix to coat the pasta well. If the pasta is too dry add some of the pasta cooking water.
  9. Top each serving with a light drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of grated cheese.
  10. Serve immediately.
  11. (To store the pesto longer, cover the surface of the pesto with plastic wrap, close the container tightly and refrigerate or freeze the pesto. Let the stored pesto come back to room temperature before using.)

 

A Pile of Chicken Cutlets

Crunchy tender chicken cutlets in a savory egg wash, breaded and fried
Crunchy tender chicken cutlets in a savory egg wash, breaded and fried

It started innocently enough. I had a bunch of stale bread so I decided to make breadcrumbs this morning.

I bought chicken cutlets at Little City to make Chicken Marsala today. But the fresh breadcrumbs won me over and I fried up chicken cutlets instead.

You can have these babies on your table in about 30 minutes. The crispy breadcrumbs give way to tender chicken flavored with pecorino and parsley in the egg wash.

I’m serving the cutlets simply with a wedge of lemon to squeeze on top or not and baby spinach sautéed in olive oil with garlic and sea salt. That’s tonight’s dinner.

Watch me make chicken cutlets from Naples in a North Beach cook-off with a chicken dish from Rome. Guess who won?

Need something for dessert? Here’s the tiramisu episode that we released yesterday morning.

Buon appetito!

 

A Pile of Chicken Cutlets
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Tender crunchy chicken cutlets in a savory eggwash, coated with breadcrumbs and fried
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound chicken scallopine, pounded thin
  • 4 eggs
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino romano
  • 2 tablespoons fresh flat parsley, minced
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil (or your favorite)
Instructions
  1. Place the flour and the breadcrumbs on separate large plates or in bowls.
  2. Place the eggs in a bowl and beat well.
  3. Add the pecorino, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well.
  4. Dredge the cutlets in flour. Shake off excess.
  5. Dip the floured cutlet in the egg-wash to coat well. Drain briefly.
  6. Put the egg-washed cutlet on the breadcrumbs. Press with your fingers to adhere the breadcrumbs.
  7. Turn the cutlet over to coat with breadcrumbs. Press with your fingers to adhere the breadcrumbs.
  8. Repeat to ensure you have a good breadcrumb coating all over the cutlet. Set the breaded cutlets aside.
  9. Put both oils in a cast-iron pan or a skillet and heat until the oil ripples.
  10. Fry the cutlet on each side until they breadcrumbs are golden brown.
  11. Drain well on paper towel.
  12. Serve warm with a wedge of lemon.

 

Cacio e Pepe: Spaghetti with a No-Cook Pecorino & Black Pepper Sauce

Don’t miss the next recipe video: Subscribe now to my YouTube channel.

Cacio e pepe
Cacio e pepe is a minimalist Italian version of mac and cheese.

It’s ridiculous how a few quality ingredients can make such a sumptuous pasta dish. When in Rome cacio e pepe is one of two pasta dishes that I order at one of my favorite restaurants as soon as I arrive.

If you’re really hungry and want something simple to eat this no-cook sauce is for you. Boil well-salted water, cook the spaghetti and you’re almost done.

When the spaghetti is al dente, fish it out of the water and put it in a big bowl. Pour a cup of hot pasta water over the spaghetti, stir in the grated pecorino & freshly ground black pepper, toss and your ready to eat.

The silky zesty pecorino sauce clings to every strand of spaghetti and the black pepper explodes in your mouth. I couldn’t stop eating this one.

Be sure to buy the best spaghetti from Italy that you can. I prefer pasta from a small producer in and around Naples. This pasta could cost you 4 or 5 dollars but it’s worth every penny. Their durum wheat pasta extruded through a bronze die has a deep nutty wheat flavor and the rough surface holds sauce well. In a pinch I use De Cecco.

Buy a hunk of pecorino romano from Italy and grate just before using to maximize its taste. Buy quality black peppercorns and coarsely grind or crush them so that you fully enjoy their robust flavor and texture.

Oh, and that other pasta dish I can’t wait to eat when I get to Roma, spaghetti carbonara. Let me know if you want me to make that one in a future episode. Just leave a comment.

I often make a spaghetti pie when I have cacio e pepe left over. Just add beaten eggs, mix and bake it until the spaghetti strands on top are golden and nutty. It’s an easy way of getting a second day of enjoyment out of this tasty dish. You can make a spaghetti pie too.

Buon appetito!

5.0 from 1 reviews
Cacio e Pepe: Spaghetti with a No-Cook Pecorino & Black Pepper Sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound (500 grams) spaghetti
  • 1 cup grated pecorino romano
  • freshly coarsely ground black pepper to taste
  • sea salt for the pasta water
Instructions
  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. When the water reaches a rapid boil add the spaghetti. Toss the spaghetti to make sure it doesn't stick.
  3. While the spaghetti is cooking grate the pecorino, half on the coarse grate and half on the fine grate.
  4. Coarsely grind black pepper or crack them with a pan or a meat pounder.
  5. When the spaghetti is al dente fish it out with tongs and put it in a big bowl. (Save 2 cups of pasta water if you drain it in a colander.)
  6. Add a cup of pasta water to the bowl and toss to moisten the spaghetti.
  7. Add the grated pecorino and toss. If the pasta is too dry add more pasta water to form a silky sauce.
  8. Add the black pepper and toss the spaghetti well.
  9. Serve immediately. Have some pecorino and the pepper mill on the table for your guests to add more if they want.

 

Lazy Lasagna Ready in an Hour

A ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour
Ricotta & sausage lasagna you can eat in about an hour

I promised to make a lasagna for our office potluck lunch Thursday. As I got ready for a trip to LA I tried to beg off making the lasagna.

I knew I wouldn’t be in the mood to make a lasagna because I was flying back Wednesday night.  My office mates wouldn’t let off the hook.

I was stuck. After I unpacked I dashed off to the market to get everything I needed.

I was making a “lazy” lasagna. No homemade pasta sheets. No long-cooked sauce. This puppy is in the oven in a half-hour.

Don’t be intimidated. This is a simple recipe for a weekend meal or even for a leisurely weeknight dinner.

I used no-boil lasagna sheets, sausage  browned out of its casing and a ricotta, mozzarella and pecorino filling. Canned San Marzano tomatoes made the quick tomato-basil sauce a snap. Leave out the sausage and you have a delicious vegetarian lasagna.

First start the sauce. It will be ready in about 30 minutes. Cook the sausage at the same time. In the meantime whip up the ricotta and mozzarella filling. When the sauce is ready assemble the 3-layer lasagna and bake it in a hot oven for about a half-hour.

How easy is that? You’ll be ready to eat in about 60 minutes start to finish.

The ricotta filling encased in tender pasta sheets is creamy and rich. The perky sausage layer bathed in the sweet tomato-basil sauce is a zesty counterweight. I savored every bite. 2 of my lucky mates snagged the leftover lasagna for their lunch the next day.

Serve the lasagna with a simple salad and a bold red wine. Have some crusty bread handy to wipe up the sauce left on the plate. You won’t have to wash that dish before you put it back on the shelf.

Buon appetito!

Lazy Lasagna with Tomato-Basil Sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian-American
Serves: 8-10
Ingredients
  • 1 box oven-ready (no-boil) lasagna sheets
  • 2 pounds ricotta, drained
  • 1 pound fresh mozzarella, shredded
  • ¼ cup grated pecorino or parmigiano, plus more to sprinkle on top of the lasagna
  • ¼ cup fresh Italian flat parsley, chopped
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound Italian mild sausage out of the casing
  • 2 28-ounce cans imported San Marzano whole tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 sprigs basil
  • sea salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter cut in small cubes
Instructions
  1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Put the canned tomatoes in a large bowl and crush them with you hand. Discard any basil in the can and any skin or tough stems.
  3. Put 2 tablespoons olive oil and garlic in a sauce pan over medium-high heat. Cook the garlic until it takes on a light tan color.
  4. Add the tomatoes to the pan and sea salt to taste. Bring the sauce to a rapid simmer.
  5. Add the basil, reduce to low heat and stir the sauce occasionally for about 30 minutes. The sauce will thicken a bit as it simmers.
  6. As the sauce simmers put a tablespoon of olive oil in a saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot add the sausage and brown. Break up any clumps as you cook the sausage.
  7. Drain off the oil in the pan and set the sausage aside.
  8. In a large bowl beat the eggs then add the ricotta, most of the shredded mozzarella, pecorino, parsley and black pepper. (Set aside a ¼ cup of the shredded mozzarella to spread on top of the lasagna.)
  9. Beat well with a fork or whisk.
  10. In a 9 x 13 inch baking dish spread a cup of sauce evenly over the bottom.
  11. Dot with 1 tablespoon butter.
  12. Lay down a single layer of lasagna sheets to cover the bottom of the dish.
  13. Add half the ricotta filling and spread it evenly over the lasagna sheets.
  14. Add another single layer of lasagna sheets on top of the ricotta filling. Spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  15. Add the browned sausage in an even layer over the lasagna sheets.
  16. Top with another single layer of lasagna sheets and spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  17. Spread the remaining ricotta filling evenly over the sheets.
  18. Top with another single layer of lasagna sheets and spread a cup of sauce evenly over the sheets.
  19. Sprinkle with the reserved shredded mozzarella and some grated pecorino.
  20. Dot with butter.
  21. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake for 5 minutes more to lightly brown the cheese on top of the lasagna,
  22. Let the lasagna sit for about 15 minutes before cutting the lasagna. (I usually make 3 cuts the length of the lasagna and then 4 cuts across the width to form 3 x 3 inch pieces.)
  23. Put any remaining sauce in a sauce bowl should your guests want to add more to their lasagna.
  24. (The lasagna is even better the next day.)

 

 

Fat Macaroni with Ricotta and Tomato Sauce

Paccheri with Ricotta and Fresh San Marzano Tomato Sacue
Paccheri with Ricotta and Fresh San Marzano Tomato Sacue

Tomatoes overflow the farmers market. I bought fresh organic San Marzano tomatoes with this pasta dish in mind.

I’m in the mood for rich and creamy so I’m mixing ricotta with the quick-cooked tomato sauce and serving it with giant dried pasta tubes.

The classic Neapolitan Paccheri con Ricotta e Salsa di Pomodoro is a late summer treat.

Paccheri means “slaps” in Italian. Gentle face slaps not hostile ones.

The fat tubes collapse on themselves. The pasta makes a slapping sound when picked up with a fork because of the creamy sauce trapped inside.

Paccheri are a big mouthful of pasta so you need a sauce that will hold up to them. This one fits the bill.

I usually just add basil to a quick-cooked fresh summer tomato sauce. But I remembered that sometimes my Mom added oregano to her tomato-basil sauce so I did too.

The mellow creamy ricotta-tomato sauce coats the fat pasta inside and out. Add a dollop of the tomato sauce on top. The fresh basil and oregano shine behind the sweet tomatoes. The freshly ground black pepper lightly tingles your tongue. You won’t believe the flavor wallop from so few ingredients quickly cooked.

If you can’t find paccheri use rigatoni, ziti or penne instead. If you can’t find San Marzano tomatoes use the ripest tomatoes available in your market. In a pinch use a 28-ounce can of imported San Marzano tomatoes.

Buon appetito!

 

Macaroni with Ricotta and Tomato Sauce
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
A creamy light ricotta and fresh San Marzano sauce coats the fat pasta tubes inside & out.
Author:
Recipe type: Pasta
Cuisine: Italian
Serves: 6
Ingredients
  • 1 pound or 500 grams dried paccheri or your favorite imported tube pasta
  • 1 pound fresh San Marzano tomatoes or the ripest summer tomatoes available in your market (or in a pinch a 28-ounce can of imported San Marzano tomatoes)
  • 1 large sprig fresh basil, plus more for garnish
  • 2 sprigs fresh oregano, plus more for garnish
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • ½ cup freshly grated pecorino
Instructions
  1. Put a big pot of well-salted pasta water over high heat and bring to a boil.
  2. Make an "X" in the top of each tomato. Put the tomatoes in the hot pasta water until the skin begins to blister, about 30 seconds.
  3. Remove the tomatoes to a bowl and when they are cool enough to handle peel off the skin.
  4. Pass the tomatoes through a food mill to form a smooth sauce. Or finely chop the tomatoes for a chunkier sauce.
  5. In a sauce pan over medium-high heat add the olive oil and the garlic. Cook until the garlic becomes translucent.
  6. Add the tomatoes to the sauce pan along with the basil and oregano sprigs.
  7. Reduce the heat to medium-low.
  8. Stirring occasionally cook the sauce until most of the tomato water is evaporated, about 15-20 minutes.
  9. Combine the ricotta and the grated pecorino in a large bowl and mix them well with a fork.
  10. When the pasta water is at a vigorous boil throw in the pasta. Follow the instructions and cook the pasta until al dente. Before draining the pasta reserve a ½ cup of the pasta cooking water.
  11. Pour about half of the hot tomato sauce into the cheese mixture in the bowl. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of the reserved pasta water. Stir well.
  12. Keep the remainder of the tomato sauce warm over low heat.
  13. Add the drained pasta to the sauce, rip in a few fresh basil leaves and fresh oregano leaves and black pepper to taste. (Add more pasta water for a looser, creamier sauce.)
  14. Serve immediately topping each plate with a little more tomato sauce left in the sauce pan and a light sprinkle of grated pecorino.

 

Friday Recipe: Pasta Fave, Aglione e Guanciale con Ricotta Secca

Viola Buitoni and the spring vegetables

Viola Buitoni was holding a cooking class in the kitchen at the Italian Consulate on top of Pacific Heights last week, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge, and I was invited. Le delize di primavera (springtime delights) were on the menu. Viola is a wonderful cook and teacher. I learned some great recipes and kitchen tips as we celebrated spring vegetables with simple and quick preparations.

We set out some fava beans, thinly sliced pancetta and a young Tuscan pecorino cheese so we could nibble as we began our work.

As we munched, I put the sliced rustic Acme bread in the oven to toast and made a fava puree. We prepared two more spreads in about 10 minutes – sheep ricotta flavored with orange zest, nutmeg, fresh majoram and drizzled with EVOO and a lardo spread.

Our tummies satisfied for now we made pasta with fave, green garlic and guanciale. A torta with ricotta, baby chard and prosciutto was put in the oven. Peas sauteed with spring onion and prosciutto and a frittata with fava and borage leaves were cooked on top of the stove as the torta baked. For dessert I made a cooked crema topped with cherries cooked in their own liquid.

Here’s my adaptation of Viola’s pasta recipe for you to enjoy. It serves 4-6 people. The sauce can me made in less time than it takes to cook the pasta. Buon appetito!

[amd-recipeseo-recipe:23]