Pesto belongs in the pantheon of flexible recipes. Sure, the classic combination is basil, garlic, Parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil, but I’ve made it with all manner of nuts, hard cheeses and leafy herbs (or other greens) and been perfectly happy.
This is my way of saying: Here is another recipe I’ve tried to design for maximum adaptability and therefore maximum utility in this time of maximum anxiety. This simple, bright and pretty pasta dish from the great Yotam Ottolenghi originally called for anchovies in the pesto, but as a vegetarian I used kalamata olives instead. It’s already a little deconstructed, with the cheese (pecorino) and nuts (pistachios) going in the final dish rather than in the pesto, and you could switch those up at will.
The feel-free-to-substitute nature goes beyond the pesto. Ottolenghi specified thinly sliced snow peas, but guess what we could find in stores? Snap peas. I’ve also made successful versions with asparagus, and I’m confident broccoli would be a success.
By the way, if you’ve ever boiled a pot of water for pasta and thought, “What else can I throw in there?” this recipe is for you. You use that water to cook the vegetables, too, drain them both together, and toss with your anything-goes pesto, pecorino, pistachios and a little lemon zest for zing. No lemon? A tiny splash of vinegar would get you there.
You can shift as many of those elements as you like the next time you make it. (And trust me: You will want there to be a next time.)
PASTA WITH PECORINO AND PISTACHIOS
Active time: 10 minutes | Total: 30 minutes
Makes: 4 servings
This gorgeous green pasta dish combines a quick pesto with thinly sliced snap peas. Trofie is the traditional pasta to serve with pesto, but fusilli or farfalle – or any shape you might have – work well, too. The original recipe uses anchovy in the pesto, but kalamata olives give the same salty brininess and make the dish vegetarian.
Storage Notes: The pasta can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.
2 1/2 cups (about 2 ounces) lightly packed basil leaves, divided (may substitute parsley, spinach or arugula)
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (1 1/4 ounces) pitted kalamata olives, drained and halved
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more as needed
8 ounces dried trofie, fusilli or farfalle pasta (or your other favorite shape)
2 cups (4 ounces) snap peas, thinly sliced on an angle (may substitute snow peas, asparagus, frozen peas or broccoli florets, or any green vegetable you like)
3/4 cup (2 1/2 ounces) grated pecorino Romano cheese, (may substitute Parmesan or any other hard, salty cheese)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shelled pistachios, chopped
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine 1 1/2 cups basil with the olive oil, olives and garlic. Pulse until the mixture forms a rough paste.
2. Bring a medium pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until nearly al dente, about 7 minutes. Add the snap peas and cook together until the pasta is just cooked and the snap peas have lost their crunch, 1 to 2 minutes.
3. Reserving 2 tablespoons of the cooking water, drain the pasta and snap peas and transfer to a large bowl. Add the pesto and the cooking water and toss to combine. Add the pecorino, pistachios, lemon zest, the remaining 1 cup basil, salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine, taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Nutrition | Calories: 600; Total Fat: 35 g; Saturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 20 mg; Sodium: 590 mg; Carbohydrates: 50 g; Dietary Fiber: 5 g; Sugars: 4 g; Protein: 20 g.
(Adapted from “Ottolenghi Simple” by Yotam Ottolenghi. Ten Speed Press, 2018.)