Spaghetti with Unplugged Pesto

You may be surprised to find that there are no pine nuts in Viana La Place's pesto, but she thinks that their sweetness and creamy texture dull the herbal intensity of the sauce.

In Liguria, the home of pesto, cooks use a few leaves of parsley, marjoram and spinach to preserve the vibrant green of the basil sauce, since pesto has a tendency to turn brown when it meets hot pasta. Try to use organically grown herbs whenever possible.

Plus: Pasta Recipes and Tips

  • Servings: 4-6

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  • 2 cups (loosely packed) small fresh basil leaves
  • Leaves from 1 small sprig of marjoram
  • 4 flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 1 tender spinach leaf, stemmed
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse sea salt
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, lightly crushed
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese plus more for the table
  • 3 tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese plus more for the table
  • About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 pound spaghetti or spaghettini

How to make this recipe

  1. Wipe the herbs and spinach clean with a dry towel; if they are not organic, wipe them with a lightly dampened towel.

  2. Put the sea salt in a large mortar. Add a few basil leaves, torn into fragments, and 1 garlic clove. Start grinding with the pestle in a circular motion until everything is reduced to a fine texture. Add a few more basil leaves and the spinach and grind and gently pound to the same fine consistency. Continue pounding the basil and herbs, adding the second garlic clove halfway through, until all the leaves are ground to a fine-textured pesto; keep scraping the pesto down into the bottom of the mortar as you work.

  3. With the pestle, gradually stir in the 1/3 cup Parmesan and 3 tablespoons Pecorino cheese; you will have a very dense mixture. Scrape the pesto off the pestle and down from the sides of the mortar. Add the olive oil in a thin steady stream, stirring it in with the pestle in a circular motion until fully incorporated. One-half cup of olive oil makes a very loose pesto; you may want to use less for a thicker pesto.

  4. Cook the spaghetti in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the pasta to a large bowl and toss with the pesto and 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking water; add more water if necessary. Serve immediately, passing additional cheese at the table.

Contributed By Published June 1996

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