Trying to hang on to the last of summer like we are? This easy pesto pasta captures the end of summer spirit, and is especially delicious when eaten outside if the weather holds up. As an added bonus, leftovers also work really well for a packed lunch. So we can also call this “Back to School Pesto Pasta” for anyone already in that mode.
My boys and I grow basil on our windowsil or inside our little greenhouse as the “summer weather” is way too erratic here where we live in the UK to grow it outdoors.
Some summer vegetables do grow really well outdoors here. Our neighbour has a plot at the local allotment (community garden) and she grows these gorgeous beans that are green and purple, though they all turn green once cooked. A few days ago she handed us these beauties over the fence, and that was the real inspiration to make this pasta.
In Liguria, the region of Italy that is home to Pesto Genovese, the classic version made with fresh basil and pine nuts, green beans are often cooked along with the pasta and mixed into the dish. (Cubed or thinly sliced small potatoes are another traditional addition to pesto pasta). It’s so convenient to boil the green beans with the pasta as the ideal cooking time is about the same and the green beans add extra nutritional value and more vibrant green color. Plus there are less pots to wash in the end, something I am always a fan of! If you don’t have green beans or your kids don’t like them, you could try adding another vegetable like peas or broccoli.
We like to make the pesto in a mortar and pestle — it’s the classic method used in Liguria and a great hands-on activity for kids. We follow the basic ratios shown in this video by the Pasta Grannies. You can find a similar recipe below if you want to try it out. Their recipe includes Parmesan cheese as well as a little bit of pecorino Romano, as is typical. If you can’t find pecorino Romano, you can just use Parmesan. And if you are vegan or intolerant to dairy, simply omit the cheese and add a bit more sea salt (or follow your own favorite recipe for vegan pesto). In Michael’s family they sometimes make a version that includes lemon juice and zest and sometimes make a vegan version that has nutritional yeast instead of cheese. And if you don’t have time to make pesto, don’t worry, just use your favorite store-bought type.
When making the pasta, be sure to follow these two important steps (also mentioned in the recipe below) which I learned while living in Italy. Once I started doing these things, my pasta dishes started to turn out so much better:
- Salt the cooking water — it should taste like the ocean.
- Reserve some of the cooking water before you drain the pasta as a splash of it helps to integrate the pasta with the sauce.
Here is a basic recipe for pesto similar to what is shown by the Pasta Grannies (along with a few notes about how we make it at my house) and also a recipe for how to make the pasta with the added green beans:
–1 clove garlic
–Pinch sea salt
–Fresh basil (tender leaves) — we use roughly 2 cups, loosely packed.
–3 Tablespoons pine nuts
–4 Tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
–1 Tablespoon finely grated pecorino Romano cheese (or use all Parmesan if desired)
–4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
–If desired, lightly toast the pine nuts in a small skillet, shaking frequently until they are barely golden brown. Then remove them from the skillet and allow them to cool. You can omit this step if you want to.
–Add the garlic and the sea salt to a mortar and pestle and grind it into a paste using a circular motion.
–Be sure the basil is dry and add it to the mortar and pestle and incorporate it into the garlic paste using the same motion. The goal is to have a bright green paste.
–Add the pine nuts and continue grinding until they are incorporated, then add in the cheese.
–Drizzle in the olive oil and continue mixing until everything is unified.
Pesto Pasta With Green Beans
–300g (2/3 pounds) pasta of choice (regular or gluten free)
–300g (2 cups) fresh green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces
–Sea salt for the cooking water, to taste
–1 batch Pesto Genovese, recipe above, or roughly 1/2 cup of your favorite pesto sauce
–Additional olive oil or a pat of butter for tossing (optional)
–A few sprigs of fresh basil to garnish (optional)
–Bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil and add sea salt until it tastes like the ocean. Start with a teaspoon or two, stir, taste, and gradually add more as needed.
–Add the pasta and the green beans to the water and cook until the pasta is al dente, according to the instructions on the box.
–Reserve about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water and then drain the pasta.
–Add the pasta to a medium-sized serving bowl and add the pesto along with a small splash of the cooking water (roughly 2 Tablespoons to start). Stir to coat, adding an extra drizzle of olive oil or a pat of butter, if desired, and more cooking liquid if needed. Note that you do not want to return this pasta to the heat once you add the pesto as it would negatively affect the color and taste of the sauce.
–Top with a few basil leaves, if desired.
–Enjoy, ideally outside if possible!