A Tale of Two Pestos

Jim met me in Florence after one of my printing jobs a few years ago. It was his first trip to Italy, and he was not disappointed. Firenze is an amazingly beautiful city, full of history and art, and of course fabulous food and wine. Each meal was a decadent adventure, filled with pasta, salumi, cheese, and more. We truly ate our way through Tuscany. And in the process of our culinary research we discovered pasta with arugula pesto at Trattoria 4 Leoni.

Arugula is our favorite salad green, and our two meals at Trattoria 4 Leoni were revelations, largely because of this pesto. It’s since become one of our summer staples, and unlike some of our other favorites, this year we didn’t wait until Labor Day weekend to make it. Each time I purée a bunch of peppery arugula with some walnuts, parmesan cheese, olive oil, and garlic to create this light, fresh sauce, I think back to the dinners we so enjoyed as we sat outside on Leoni’s tranquil piazza. Our small kitchen table in Brooklyn isn’t quite the same, but somehow we make it work.

Arugula Pesto with Pasta Rustica from Caputo’s

Pesto is a wonderful way to use raw ingredients at the height of their fresh goodness. Whether made from traditional basil and pine nuts, or sun dried tomatoes, or any green such as arugula or watercress, this quick, easy sauce is practically guaranteed to explode with flavor. It even works with other dishes besides pasta. For example, last week I slathered some leftover arugula pesto on bread as a condiment for grilled chicken panini. I’m always willing to try a new pesto combination because of the promise it fulfills. It has rarely let me down.

So this weekend I opened my September issue of Food & Wine and turned to the recipe for Orrechiette with Pistachio Pesto. I was especially eager to try this recipe because the two Franks (Castronovo and Falcinelli) from the restaurant Frankies 457 Spuntino created it for the magazine. Frankies Spuntino is located around the corner from our apartment, and it has been one of our regular haunts since we moved here three years ago. Congrats on being featured in the magazine, guys!

I followed the recipe to the letter, and since it cited the importance of good-quality pistachios, we went to Sahadi’s to find the best. Once puréed with olive oil, fresh mint, garlic, and romano cheese, the golden bits of meaty pistachios created an incredibly nutty, flavorful sauce whose strong aroma wafted through the apartment as soon as I combined it with some cavatelli. (I thought I had some orrechiette in the house when I started cooking, but of course I was mistaken. Cavatelli would have to do.)

Cavatelli with Pistachio Pesto from Food & Wine Magazine

Although full of vibrant flavors, this pesto was a little too rich for us. Perhaps it is better suited to cooler weather, as a kind of comfort food. But we still enjoyed it very much, and it’s always good to broaden the pesto possibilities. You can never have too many.

Recipe for Pasta with Arugula Pesto
As mentioned above, I followed the recipe for the Pistachio Pesto straight from September’s issue of Food & Wine. However, I created the arugula pesto recipe below, which is inspired by the one I tried at Trattoria 4 Leoni in Florence, Italy.

  • 1 large bunch of arugula, washed, with leaves picked off the stems
  • 1/4 cup of fresh basil, washed
  • 1/2 cup fresh walnuts
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 clove of fresh garlic, minced
  • 8 cherry or grape tomatoes, quartered
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound of pasta: bucatini, penne, fusilli, or farfalle. Any kind of pasta with ridges to hold the sauce is fine.

While the pasta is cooking, combine the first six ingredients together in a food processor and purée. Add salt and pepper to taste. Please note that I use the measurements above as rough guides. Once I combine all of the ingredients in the food processor, I taste the pesto and adjust the seasoning as necessary. For example, if the garlic seems slightly too strong, I’ll add a little more olive oil or cheese. When the pasta has finished cooking, drain and reserve a bit of cooking water. Combine with pesto and add a little of the cooking water if the pasta seems too dry. Ladle pasta into bowls and top with tomatoes. Garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh pepper. Serves four. Enjoy!

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2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Jonathan said,

    This recipe is slightly reminiscent of one that we tried to recreate after our 3 week wedding/honeymoon in Tuscany. It’s not a pistachio pesto, but a pistachio sauce. It’s seems like it would be a bit of a lighter sauce than the one you made but, you’re right, it is a rich sauce. It’s the pistachios that make it rich. I think both the F&W recipe and mine would look beter with the green Sicilian or Turkish pistachios vs. the normal white ones that are sold her in the US (not sure which one’s you used). If you’re interested in trying a different version of the pistachio sauce, check out our recipe: http://neverfull.wordpress.com/2007/09/15/bucatini-or-maccheroncelli-with-pistachio-sauce/

  2. 2

    artichokeheart said,

    Your photos and recipe look great. Now I realize that the green pistachios would definitely make a difference in the dish. I didn’t realize that’s what Food & Wine meant when they made the distinction between using American and Italian ones. I don’t think Jim was able to find Sicilian pistachios at Sahadi’s, but we’ll have to try harder next time.

    That’s what having a dialogue is all about; we can all learn from each other. Thanks so much for the tip!


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