The note that I wrote about this pasta in my cooking journal reads “Holy shit! This is some silky-ass pasta!”, which was surprisingly helpful when I was trying to remember exactly how to describe the luxurious texture of this dish. Indeed the term “silky-ass” poignantly captures exactly how creamy and unctuous this pasta recipe is. The unsung hero of this dish (aside from the pesto, duh) is the use of the pasta-cooking water, which, when whisked into the pesto, creates a warm, glossy stream of sauce that coats each individual noodle with the perfect slick of herby-oily goodness. It is a technique that works so well I have also incorporated it into the other pesto recipe and henceforth decree to apply it to all other related pasta cookery.
A brief note about timing before you venture off to become a convert of starchy pasta water and its magical properties: I made and ate this dish fresh (meaning still steaming hot) and then again 6 hours later (for…um…research purposes, yes, of course – in the name of research!). There was no comparison; the fresh one was 1000 times better (not to besmirch the good name of the leftovers, which were tasty but absolutely could not hold a candle to the fresh version). So maybe take that into consideration when making this. If you want a knock-your-socks-off pesto pasta, don’t make it too far in advance – it just won’t be the same. If your standards are lower, then go for it, make it the night before, the day before, the week before, whatever (except not really with the week before stuff, ya dope).
BA’s Best: Pesto Pasta
Taken from BA’s Best arsenal
10 cups fresh basil leaves, loosely packed (~ 2 large bunches)
½ cup finely grated parmesan cheese + plus more for sprinkling
1 ½ tbsp pine nuts
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil + more for drizzling
1 lb spaghetti
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Set a colander inside a large bowl of ice water and set aside. Once the salted water is boiling, dunk the basil in the water for about 10 seconds, then use a slotted spoon or sieve to scoop the basil out and set it in the colander/water-bath. This is called blanching and it keeps the pesto green and vibrant. Save about ½ cup of the basil-cooking water (not too be confused with the pasta-cooking water, which comes into play later).
Drain the basil by removing it from the water and squeezing the leaves out with your hands. Transfer the basil to a layer of paper towels and wring it out one more time, getting as much water out as possible. You will be left with a fraction of the basil that you started out with. It shrinks like crazy.
Place the blanched basil in the bowl of a food processor along with the parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and garlic. Pulse until well combined then add 2 tbsp of the reserved blanching liquid and process for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the food processor then decide if you need to thin the pesto out more, in which case add another spoonful or two of blanching water. Either way, process the pesto for another minute, until a smooth puree has formed. Transfer the pesto to a small bowl and whisk in the olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Set a large pot of well-salted water to boil over high heat (this means you need to add more salt than you probably feel comfortable with – just do it – this is the only point where you really get to season the pasta itself). Cook the spaghetti, stirring occasionally until the noodles are al dente (this is usually around 7-8 minutes for spaghetti but check the package instructions for your brand). Right before the pasta finishes cooking, scoop out a cupful of the starchy water and set aside. In a large bowl, stir together ¼ cup pasta-cooking water with ½ cup pesto. Drain the pasta and immediately transfer it into the bowl with the pesto mixture. Use tongs to vigourously toss the spaghetti, drizzling olive oil over the noodles to help coat them evenly with the pesto. Keep tossing and add more parmesan cheese and extra pesto until the noodles are dressed and seasoned to your liking. The spaghetti should be glossy and perfectly embody the term “silky-ass”. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Divide among bowls and sprinkle with just a tad more cheese. Enjoy your sophisticated, grown-up version of cheesy pasta.