Recipe: Traditional Pesto Genovese made with trofie pasta. Simply divine.


Take the time to make this by hand with mortar and pestle, and herbs from the garden, and you will discover a new world of flavour

Trofie are a short, hand-twisted noodle that come from Liguria, birthplace of pesto pasta.  While other noodle shapes can be subbed in, these are the best.  Pesto Genovese is one of the most famous pasta dishes both inside and outside of Italy. It is a shame that it is always such a pale reflection of itself.  Pesto must be made fresh or it loses its character, and certainly never bought in a jar.

The classic method of pesto making is to pulverize the ingredients with a mortar and pestle.  I do favour this method, though more work, as it gives a more interesting texture and look to the final dish.  Making it in a food processor is certainly easier, but it takes away the texture and turns the sauce into a mousse, and the heat of the whirling blades releases too much of the perfume to the air.

If you follow these instructions faithfully, you will find a love for pesto that will last a lifetime.  It will keep for a week or so if you put it in a tall glass and make sure there is no air, then cover with a layer of olive oil, to ensure that no air can get at it, before sealing with plastic wrap.

  • 250g of basil leaf, well sun-drenched so the stalks stand tall and proud
  • 50g of flat leaf parsley
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • three medium to small cloves of garlic, or one big one
  • three tablespoons of pine nuts
  • a half stick of butter, or 4 tablespoons
  • coarse sea salt to taste
  • an eighth cup of hot pasta water, captured under the colander
  • a half cup of pecorino and a half cup of parmigiano

In a mortar, crush the garlic to a pulp with the coarse salt.  Add the pine nuts and crush only a little, just to break up, but still leaving some pieces.  Chop the leaves a little with a butcher’s knife so that they are coarsely chopped, and then place in the bowl you will serve the finished dish in.  Using a large wooden mallet, or the end of a rolling pin, or equivalent, crush the leaves to release the juices, fully amalgamate, and continue crushing until it is no longer clumpy.  It takes some work and time.  Add a third cup of olive oil, add the butter and the cheese, add the hot water.  Stir.  It should taste a wee bit too garlicky, and a little too salty.  Stir into the hot pasta.

Classic Pesto with Beans and Potatoes

The true classic pesto incorporates diced potatoes and green beans and becomes a feast for it.  I love it this way, and it is well worth the extra effort.  The potatoes to use are not baking potatoes, which are too starchy and will fall apart if overcooked, but rather the waxy variety that hold together.  I don’t bother to peel my potatoes, as I like the nutrition and texture of the skins.

  • 200 g green beans, topped and tailed
  • 2 large waxy potatoes, diced

Dice the potatoes into about 1 cm square pieces, as uniform as you can.  Toss them into the boiling water about 1 minute before you toss in the pasta.  If you have enough water in the pot, it will be back to the boil in time for the pasta to go in.  The potatoes should take about 10 minutes to cook, so you need to measure against the recommended cooking time of the pasta, so everything is al dente at the same time.  

Toss in the pasta.  Stir.  

Cook for 5 minutes or so and then add the green beans, when you are about 3-5 minutes from the end of cooking, depending on how al dente you like your beans.

Cook’s Note on Pasta Shapes

If you are not able to find trofie where you live, then you might use a shape such as strozzapreti (priest stranglers), bavette, gemelli, or fusilli.  But pasta shapes are indeed made for a reason and each likes its own sauce, so do use trofie if you can.

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