This is total comfort food, and one of my favourite pasta dishes. I learned to make it many years ago with a friend, Giulio, who is from Ventimiglia, a town near Genoa where this pasta hails from. It has since become a staple in our home – something familiar to always fall back on, especially during summer when basil is abundant.
Traditionally, this dish is paired with trofie, a short spiral pasta, which is relatively easy to make. If you’d prefer to use dried pasta, you can find trofie in many specialty Italian grocers, and if not, another short pasta like penne or fusilli would work too – you’ll need about 400 g; just be sure to adjust the cooking time to suit, or cook the pasta separately and stir through with the pesto once cooked.
Potato-wise, you want something that will hold its own, yet soften a little to help create some texture in the sauce – waxy potatoes are best for this. I like to use blue moon potatoes – which have an amazing purple skin and a wonderful texture – but nicola potatoes are delicious too.
250g waxy potatoes, peeled, halved and cut into 2 cm slices
150g green beans, trimmed and cut into 3 cm lengths
Sea salt, to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
For the pasta
200g tipo 00 flour
200g semolina flour extra for dusting
generous pinch of sea salt
130–150ml lukewarm water
For the pesto
1 garlic clove, peeled
Pinch of sea salt
Bunch of basil, preferably small and sweet, leaves picked (about 30 g in total)
40g (1⁄4 cup) pine nuts
25g (1⁄4 cup) finely grated parmesan
25g (1⁄4 cup) finely grated good-quality pecorino (such as pecorino sardo)
about 60ml (1⁄4 cup) extra-virgin olive oil
For the TROFIE pasta
To make the dough for the trofie, tip the flours onto a clean work surface. Add a generous three-fingered pinch of salt and mix with your hands. Make a well in the centre and slowly pour in the water, gradually drawing the flour into the water and mixing with your hands until you have a shaggy mass (you may need a little extra water to create the right consistency). Knead until it comes together into a smooth dough that is soft, but not sticky or too dry. Cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Next, divide the dough into four pieces. Cover three of the pieces and set aside. Roll the dough out into a rectangle about 1.5 mm thick. You can use a pasta machine or a rolling pin. You may need a little flour on your bench, but not too much, otherwise the dough will slide on your hands rather than roll when you’re trying to shape it.
Cut the dough into 2 cm squares. Take a square and place at the heel of your palm. Using your other palm, roll the dough into a spiral shape by rolling it towards your fingertips. This is best done on a wooden surface – so that the dough grips a little – but if you don’t have a wooden bench, a large wooden cutting board will work well too. Roll the remaining squares into spirals, dust with a little extra semolina flour to stop them sticking together and set aside in a single layer. I usually lay the trofie on tea towels that have been generously dusted with semolina flour, which makes for an easy transfer into the pot.
Repeat the rolling, cutting and rolling with the remaining pieces of dough.
For the PESTO
To make the pesto, pound the garlic and salt using a mortar and pestle. Add the basil and crush in a circular motion. When a paste begins to form, add the pine nuts and pound. Stir in the parmesan and pecorino and drizzle in enough olive oil to thin the pesto to a dolloping texture.
Alternatively, you can use a food processor; just be aware that the metal blades can quickly oxidise the basil leaves. If using a food processor, pulse everything except the oil and cheeses together, then drizzle in the oil while the motor is running, then stir in the cheeses by hand. Set aside.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil over a medium–high heat. Throw in the potatoes and boil for about 5 minutes, until firm but almost cooked. Add the pasta and beans and cook for 2–3 minutes until the pasta is al dente and the beans are cooked but still firm.
Drain, reserving some of the pasta water, and transfer the potatoes, beans and pasta to a large serving dish. Stir the pesto through, adding 60–125 ml (1⁄4–1⁄2 cup) of pasta water as needed – enough to create a luxurious sauce. Be very gentle when stirring to avoid breaking the potatoes, as they can easily turn mushy at this point. Season to taste and serve with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
‘‘ by Julia Busuttil-Nishimura is published in paper-back (AUD$44.99) or e-book ($17.99) by Pan Macmillan’s lifestyle imprint, . It is also available at all good bookstores, and for orders outside Australia ship internationally.