Basil is one of those smells that always makes me think Summer. It is so bright and aromatic, once it starts to grow you better start using it- otherwise the basil will flower and the plant will start to taste bitter. Basil is a classic accompaniment to tomatoes, something about that combination makes both ingredients stand out and taste so fresh, this simple spaghetti recipe is just that: fresh pasta, fresh pesto, and fresh cherry tomatoes.
I made this pesto and it yielded about a pint, which I used as sauce in a pound of pasta and had about 1/4 cup left over. Pesto can be made ahead and used fresh with in a week or more- or it can be frozen and used later. I have heard a lot of people talk about freezing pesto in ice cube trays, then storing the frozen cubes in freezer bags- then you can add little cubes of pesto to sauces or other dishes for fresh basil taste.
Start by toasting the nuts. I used pistachio because they just happened to be in my kitchen- pine nuts are traditional and walnuts are a common substitue. This is the first time I have used pistachio and it tasted great- really use any nuts that you have handy. Toast the nuts on a parchment lined sheet pan at 350 degrees for about 6 – 8 minutes- remove them from the oven as soon as they are warm and fragrant. Set aside until later use. Next blanch the basil leaves, wring out basil until very dry and set aside until later use. 4 ounces of blanched basil leaves looks like nothing- but with everything mixed together you do get nearly a pint of pesto sauce.
Squeeze juice out of about half a lemon and also zest half of the lemon- you don’t want a very aggressive lemon taste, just a light hint.
In the bowl of a food processor chop garlic until minced, about 30 seconds, then add the toasted nuts and pulse another 30 seconds. You want the garlic and the nuts to be well chopped but not turing into a paste. Now add the basil leaves, lemon juice, lemon zest, and salt- pulse that on and off two or three times until the basil is well chopped and everything is starting to come together.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and pulse again so that everything is mixed together. Add the cheese and pulse one last time before adding the oil. Use fresh grated cheese- I usually buy Grana Padano- which is a hard parmesan cheese and is a little cheaper than Parmigiano-Reggiano, but just as tasty. Grana Padano can be found very easily at Costco or your local cheese merchant.
With the machine running add all of the extra virgin olive oil in a steady stream- be cautious not to over mix the pesto sauce- shouldn’t go for more than a minute.
Remove the pesto from the bowl with a spatula and store however you like. If you’re going to leave it in your fridge for a little while it is a good idea to pour a little extra olive oil on the top to help keep the color fresh. The pesto should stay relatively green because the leaves have been blanched- but it will still start to oxidize.
If you’re going to go on and make the spaghetti dish bring a large pot of water to a boil and add 1/4 cup of Kosher salt. When I made this I used some fresh pasta that I bought at the Belmont Farmers’ Market from Fior D’Italia: The Pasta Man- I got a pound of spaghettitini, I also got some some very pretty yellow and red cherry tomatoes from Kimball Fruit Farm which I cut into quarters. Dried pasta would work fine as well. The fresh pasta takes only a couple minutes to cook- if using dry pasta follow instruction on the box. Put about 2/3 Cup of pesto sauce in a large bowl- when the pasta is done pick it up with tongs and move it directly into this bowl. Toss pasta with pesto sauce- adding additional pasta water if it looks very dry, then add tomatoes and more fresh grated cheese. Serve in individual bowls with a few more tomatoes and fresh cheese as garnish.