RECIPE: Potato, Green Bean and Pesto Pasta

I love pesto.
In fact, I'm a little obsessed.
Which is funny considering that my off-the-boat-Italian parents not only don't like pesto, never made pesto for us growing up, and come from the south of Italy where pesto isn't even a "thing". So I am not sure where my obsession comes from, but it's here to stay. And with that obsession comes countless basil plants. They're like Tribbles in my yard (nod to you Trekkies out there.) You got your Genovese, Sweet, Lemon, Thai, name it, we're growing it.
So I have tried many pestos with my abundance of basil plants. But my eyes perked up when I saw the Cooks Illustrated article that talked about the original pesto from Liguria, Italy. The original recipe uses potatoes (GASP! A DOUBLE CARB? EWW.)
But after reading the article, the chef/author explains that the potatoes add a creaminess to the pesto that is to die for. SO I played with this recipe, and it was so good I had to share. For the original go here:

I punched up the garlic a little from the original, added lemon juice to the pesto versus at the assembly part. I thought the lemon juice would help keep the basil fresh and from darkening up while it sat. I used less pasta water, and of course-more cheese.

We ate this al fresco on the deck and it was simply perfect. My 10 year old belonged to the clean plate club that night.

Potato, Green Bean and Pesto Pasta

1/2 cup pine nuts, plus extra small handful for good measure (I like pine nuts)
4 garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed
1lb. red potatoes, peeled and cut into half-inch pieces
salt and pepper to taste
12 ounces green beans trimmed and cut into 1" pieces
2 cups fresh basil leaves, rinsed and patted dry
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb. good quality, whole wheat semolina large shells
2 tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces
extra grated Parmesan for garnish


First toast the pine nuts in a large skillet with the garlic on medium heat. Garlic will begin to blister and brown in small areas while the pine nuts get toasty. Keep stirring the ingredients in the pan so everything browns evenly and you don't burn your pine nuts. Transfer pine nuts and garlic to a bowl and let cool. Once garlic is able to be handled, chop it up roughly. Meanwhile in a food processor add basil leaves, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, cooled pine nuts and garlic. Top with 1/2 tsp. salt and process until a paste forms. Next, add the olive oil while pulsing so that the paste becomes the consistency of a creamy sauce. Set pesto aside until ready to use.

Now, take that skillet you browned your garlic and pine nuts in and add about an inch of water with 1 tablespoon of salt and heat to a boil. Add the green beans to the water, and cover to cook the green beans for about 5 to 7 minutes. When green beans are tender, drain in a colander and shock with cold water. Set aside.

In a large stockpot boil about 3 quarts of water. Once water is boiling add 1 tablespoon of salt and add cut potatoes. Cook potatoes until fork tender but still hold their shape, between 10-12 minutes. Once done, use a slotted spoon to transfer the potatoes to where you're keeping your green beans. DO NOT discard the water, you'll need that cooking water for finishing the pesto sauce, as well as cooking the pasta. To that end, heat the potato water back up to a boil, and add the pasta. Cook according to package directions until the pasta is al dente (usually around 9 minutes.) But before draining the pasta, take a heatproof measuring cup and a soup ladle, and measure 1 1/4 cups hot pasta water. Set the hot water aside, and drain your pasta at this point. Return drained pasta back to the stockpot for full assembly.

To the pasta add the butter, potatoes, green beans and all the pesto sauce. Give everything a good stir, then add half of your 1 1/4 cups reserved cooking water with some fresh ground pepper. Stir the pasta water in with the dish, and see if you need a little more water. What you want is a nice, creamy consistency but not watery. So only add half the water at first and see where you are at. I find that if you add too much water, the whole thing gets watery. I added about a cup in mine and had a quarter cup leftover. Depending on the starchiness of your potatoes and how thick your pesto turned out, you may need more or less. Use your judgment. Adjust the salt, and serve warm with a healthy garnish of grated Parmesan cheese on top.



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