I’m clinging on to Summer for dear life. I don’t want to let it go. The long days, the bright skies, the open-top boat rides out into the lagoon, and the lazy lunches al fresco under the shade of the unruly fig tree in our garden. The lethargy of summer: I will miss the lethargy of summer.
Pasta con pesto is a dish that lends itself well to lethargy, be it of the Summer, Winter or autumnal variety. It’s essentially the lazy cook’s bliss: that precious kind of cooking which calls for very little actual cooking before you get on to the all-important matter of eating. A handful of fresh basil leaves, nuts, a little parmesan and indecent lashings of olive; throw together in a blender; and voilá: sauce so creamy it delights even the most gourmand of appetites.
At home we eat pasta often, especially when it is just Aeneas, Anthony and I. Yet, funnily enough, I rarely find myself cooking pasta when we have guests over; unless perhaps it’s the oven-baked variety, perhaps a maccheroni al forno, for example, or maybe a lasagna of some kind. Out of habit perhaps – or laziness – I mostly choose to serve dishes that you pop in the oven and leave to tend to themselves; no last minute fussing, rather more indulging in friends’ company and news.
But pasta con pesto is different. That I would happily cook for a small army, time and time again. The sauce, you see – unlike a meaty ragú or a slow cooked sugo al pomodoro, is gratifyingly quick to make; you throw it together, almost mindlessly, with ingredients that you likely already have sitting in your store cupboard; quickly you learn to make it by eye and by taste, without reference to recipes, books or any other such encumbrances. All of which, incidentally, makes pasta con pesto – be it a dish of penne, trofie, gnocchi or, as here, orecchiette – ideal for cosy kitchen suppers and more sumptuous dinner parties alike.
To go with the recipe for pesto below, I’ve thrown a few stems of broccoli and a handful of green beans into the boiling water as the pasta cooks. This is how they do it in Genoa – the town where pesto hails from, and where you will just as often find a few roughly chopped potatoes added to the pot too. The greens add flavour, vibrance and a rather lovely crunchy texture to the dish. To turn the pasta into a good meal, you need little else: a loaf of bread (perhaps a focaccia, if you wanted to keep with the Genoese theme); a nice fennel and parmesan salad, perhaps, to go with it; and then a good pudding, like this dark chocolate and amaretto tart or this coffee and walnut cake with a layer of mascarpone icing, to round everything off.
But best of all: these orecchiette somehow taste and feel like summer, even when technically it’s not summer any more.
Orecchiette con Pesto, Broccoli e Fagiolini
(Orecchiette with Pesto Sauce, Broccoli and Green Beans)
Make sure to use a large saucepan so as no to overcrowd the vegetables and the pasta as they cook. As to the cooking times, they will vary significantly depending on whether you are using fresh or dried orecchiette. The recipe below is for a fresh pasta (which has a shorter cooking time), but if you are using dried pasta then follow the instructions for timing on the packet (tasting regularly to make sure that it doesn’t overcook) and add the vegetables 3-4 minutes before the pasta is cooked.
This sauce also works wonderfully well with trofie – that twisted little pasta that, like pesto, hails from the Liguria region – or with potato gnocchi.
FOR THE PESTO SAUCE
1 small clove of garlic, peeled
100g fresh basil leaves
60g grated pecorino
140g grated parmesan
2 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts
A generous pinch of salt
200ml olive oil
FOR THE PASTA
200g green beans
First make the sauce by combining all the ingredients in a blender and blitzing until you have a smooth sauce. Tweak the pesto to taste, by adding more salt, cheese, olive oil or basil, as you like, then set to one side.
Top and tail the green beans, and roughly chop the broccoli into bitesize pieces. Bring a large pan of generously salted water to the boil; as the water begins to gallop add the chopped broccoli, beans and the pasta all together. Cook for 3-4 minutes until the pasta is al dente.
Reserve a cup of the cooking water and set to one side, then drain the vegetables and the pasta in a colander. Throw everything back together into the pan, add the sauce and stir in the cup of cooking water little by little. You might not need all of it, just keep adding it a splash at a time, until the sauce becomes creamy and glistening, but not watery.
Serve immediately, topped with heaps of grated parmesan (or pecorino, if you prefer) and a few slivers of almond, if you like.