Most women get excited over a new pair of shoes. However, lately, a new gadget or piece of kitchen equipment gets my heart racing. Don’t get me wrong, a new wrap dress for going out to dinner (always nice to let someone else do the cooking once in a while) or hosting a dinner party is always fun, but my new marble mortar and pestle is quite pretty too.
Had been searching for a reasonably large mortar and pestle for quite some time. Even searched for one while I was in Italy a few months back. I envisioned walking into a cute little family-run shop and finding the perfect rustic, perhaps weathered, mortar and pestle to take home; no such luck, apparently they get passed down from generation to generation and are difficult to find in stores nowadays. Nonetheless, this was a great find (in Washington, D.C. of all places) and one serious mortal and pestle; perfect for grinding spices, whipping up a batch of aioli, or making pesto by hand. Also great therapy after a long, frustrating day at work, and good for strengthening your upper arm muscles.
Another weekend, another day of shopping at the farmers’ market. This time I brought home some Thai basil, amongst my other purchases. Eager to use my new mortal and pestle, I decided to make a batch of fresh pesto with a healthy dose of pistachios (in place of pine nuts) to accompany a bowl of rigatoni. While Thai basil is not typical for making an Italian pesto (traditionally made with Genovese basil), sometimes you have to adapt to what’s available. Thai basil imparts anise/licorice notes, an usual but nice touch to pesto.
I had a rendition of this dish (Paccheri al Pesto di Pistachio) when I was on the tiny island of Filicudi (population 400) in the Aeolian Islands (off the coast of Sicily) this past summer. One of the most delectable plates of pasta I’ve ever encountered — the perfect balance of basil, pistachio, lemon, and oil with textbook al dente pasta. This is my homage to paccheri al pesto di pistachio, based entirely on my fond memories (of both the meal and time spent on this remote, serene island — wish I was still there — ahh, to dream).
Rigatoni al Pesto di Pistachio
1/2 pound pasta (such as rigatoni)
1/2 cup pesto (recipe below)
4-5 anchovies in oil, rinsed, and mashed with fork
zest of half of lemon
squeeze of lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Ground pistachios for garnish
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. When boiling, add pasta and cook until al dente (reserve some pasta water). Heat a large skillet with a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Add the mashed anchovies and stir for 30 seconds. Toss in the pasta, some pasta water (enough to form a little sauce on the bottom of the pan), pesto, lemon zest, squeeze of lemon, and season with salt and pepper. Toss until well incorporated and warmed through, about 30 seconds. Serve hot.
Garnish with a generous sprinkling of ground pistachios and some coarse sea salt.
Note: Don’t be afraid of the anchovies. They provide a subtle, pleasing salinity to the dish.
1 large bunch of basil (Genovese [or Thai for a slightly different twist])
1-2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup ground pistachios (can grind with mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or food processor)
salt and pepper
Start by pounding the garlic with a pinch of salt until smooth. Add ~ 1/3 of the basil leaves. Slowly add more basil, pound some more; repeat with the rest of the basil. At this point the basil and garlic should be a fine mince. Add the oil, a spoonful at a time, and pound into the crushed basil.
Stir in the ground pistachios.
Note: Pesto can be made in a blender or food processor.