Pesto is probably one of the simplest pasta sauces. All you need to do is throw some basil, pine nuts, garlic, cheese, and oil into a food processor, turn it on, and voila, you've got pesto ready to serve. It doesn't even need cooking. Even though pesto is easy to make, it's still very flavorful - the spiciness of the basil combines with the sharpness of the garlic and the savoriness of the cheese to make a delicious whole. So, if you're looking for a quick and easy pasta sauce that isn't tomato-based yet is full of flavor, this may be what you're looking for. Since we just made some for breakfast today, it's this week's end-of-the-week recipe blogging post.
As a side note, basil can sometimes be expensive to purchase in bulk at the store. However, it's relatively easy to grow, and basil plants often produce copious crops of leaves; I grow basil in my garden every summer (though, sadly, caterpillars and/or desiccation often get to the basil before I do).
3 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed (~4oz)
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup finely grated pecorino Romano (or parmesan) cheese
2/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1. Rinse the basil and pick off any bad spots. I remove any thick stems, but keep the petioles and small stems.
2. Add the basil, garlic, pine nuts, and cheese to a food processor (or blender). Process until it turns into a thick paste, scraping down the sides as necessary.
3. With the food processor (or blender) on, slowly pour in the oil.
4. If you're not going to be adding salty components to the pesto (e.g., grating cheese over pesto-covered pasta), add salt to taste.
5. The sauce is ready to serve; we often serve it immediately over freshly cooked pasta.
Notes (including a pasta recipe):
To serve with pasta, put freshly cooked pasta into a large bowl, add enough pesto to coat the pasta, and mix thoroughly. How much pesto you add is up to you; we find that adding about a cup of pesto to a pound of dry pasta, cooked, is a good starting point. We often bring a small container of pesto to the table so we can add additional pesto if we so desire.
Pesto oxidizes quickly when exposed to air (turning a dark green color); store in a sealed container in the fridge to slow this process. Mix before using. The oxidation doesn't really affect the flavor, though, so don't worry too much about this.
According to Joy of Cooking, pesto can be served with pasta that has been cooked with green beans and potatoes. Here's a quick recipe for that (feel free to add more green beans and potatoes than we add):
1 pound dry pasta (e.g., linguini)
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup chopped green beans (we use frozen)
1 medium potato, washed and sliced into ~3/16-inch-thick slices (waxy potatoes are preferable)
1. Fill a large pot with enough water to cover the pasta (at least 6 quarts), and bring to a boil.
2. Once the water is boiling, add the salt, pasta, green beans, and potato slices.
3. Cook for the recommended time on the package, testing the pasta regularly (by tasting it). Do not remove the pasta until it is al dente (just slightly chewy inside); depending on the brand, your pasta may be al dente before, at, or after the recommended cooking time on the package. Don't cook pasta solely by the time printed on the package. Drain the pasta when cooked.
4. Put the drained pasta and vegetables into a large bowl, add about a cup of the pesto, and mix thoroughly (I use two forks to do this).
5. Serve with additional grated cheese and extra pesto on the table.
This recipe is slightly modified from Rombauer et al. (1997).
Rombauer, I. S., M. R. Becker, and E. Becker. 1997. Joy of Cooking. Scribner, NY.