We’re really excited – we just got in a huge shipment of fabulous imported Italian food. There are some great (and fun) Italian pastas, delicious pestos and wonderful tomatoes. We dove right into the pesto and pasta and whipped up a quick and delicious meal that would rival (or beat) anything you could get out at a restaurant. Because, as you know, if you ask the average Italian on the street where the best place is to eat, you would never get a restaurant recommendation. You’d hear “my Grandmother’s,” “my Aunt’s” or “my Mom’s.” That’s because they know how to take good ingredients and not mess them up.
And that’s the secret to a great pasta with pesto – take great ingredients and know how to bring out their best.
So, with our apologies to all of you who have been making pasta and pesto forever, here’s how we do it –
Bring a big pot of water to boil over high heat.
The secret to not having your pasta stick or clump is to get it back to the boil as soon as you can – the movement of the pasta in the boiling water will keep it from sticking together. We use at least 4 quarts of water for every pound of pasta.
Once the water comes to a boil, add a generous amount of salt – 1-2 tablespoons, according to your preference.
Dried pasta contains little salt and seasoning the water ensures that more salt gets into the pasta. This is your only chance to season the inside of the pasta. And no, don’t add any oil to the water – that will just make the pasta oily when it comes out, which will keep the sauce from sticking to the pasta.
Pour the dry pasta into the boiling, salted water. We’re using Marella’s Monnezzaglia. It’s a totally adorable mixture of the leftovers of the various dried pastas. We used half the bag for this recipe (about ½ pound).
Stir the pasta immediately, making sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Stir it pretty frequently (every 30 seconds or so) until it comes back to a boil. Then stir it every couple of minutes.
Cook the pasta for as long as the package tells you. We cooked the monnezzaglia for 9 minutes and it was a perfect al dente. A minute or so before it’s done, take a half a cup or so of pasta water out of the pot and set it aside. You’ll use it later to finish the pesto.
Fun hint: And if your serving bowl is cold, you can toss a bit of the pasta water into the bowl to warm it up. That way, the pasta doesn’t cool down as fast once you put it into the bowl.
Drain your pasta in a colander and then put it in your serving bowl. (If you’ve added water to the bowl to warm it up, pour it out before putting in the pasta).
Now you’re ready for the pesto! We used Ranise’s Ligurian basil pesto, which is made from DOP basil and Grana Padano cheese near Genoa where pesto originated. It is an amazing pesto! We used half the jar of pesto for this recipe. So, that’s half the jar of pesto for half the bag of pasta.
Add the pesto and stir for a couple of seconds. The pesto will almost immediately stick to the pasta and you’ll have a lot of pasta without sauce.
This is where the reserved pasta water comes in. Add some – about ½ cup for each pound of pasta – to the pasta/pesto bowl and stir.
This will loosen up the pesto and help it spread around. It will also give the pasta a nice silky texture. If the sauce is still too thick, add more pasta water until it’s not.
Shred some Parmesan or other good hard cheese over the pasta and serve immediately.