Monday, April 21, 2014

Rigatoni with Spicy Sicilian Pesto

Pesto usually leaves me feeling a little... blah.  I like it on a sandwich or as the sauce on a pizza, but there has to be more stuff going on.  A plain pasta tossed in pesto has always struck me as being a little boring.  This pesto is far from boring.  The combination of basil, mint and fennel seeds (who puts fennel seeds in pesto?) makes things a lot more interesting.  And I really like the addition of serrano chilis and dried chili flakes - they give the pesto great kick.  You don't want to make this pesto if you are afraid of a little heat.  The post on Serious Eats suggests that the sauce has "gorgeous hints of subtle spice" but this isn't a gentle hint of background heat.  It should also be said that this pasta doesn't have the level of spice you would expect from a Sichuan dish either.  All things considered, this was a pretty interesting take on a simple pasta tossed in pesto that is relatively easy to throw together.  There are other pasta dishes that would make my easy mid-week pasta repertoire before this one (including this Pasta with Caramelized Cabbage, Anchovies and Bread Crumbs, this Pasta with Sun Gold Tomatoes or this Spaghetti with Garlic and Oil).  But I could see myself making this variation of pesto again.  And this pesto might make me reconsider pesto as a delivery method for any number of different seasonings and ingredients.  Overall I consider that a win.

Recipe after the jump!

Rigatoni with Spicy Sicilian Pesto
Adapted from Serious Eats
By Mario Batali


1 cup fresh basil leaves, lightly packed, washed and spun dry 
1/4 cup mint leaves
2 small garlic cloves, peeled
1 serrano chili, stems and seeds removed
1/2 tbsp hot red pepper flake
1/4 tsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp sliced blanched almonds 
1/4 cup evoo
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp freshly grated Pecorino Romano (the recipe actually calls for Pecorino Siciliano), plus 2 tbsp (optional), for garnish

Place the basil, mint, garlic, Serrano chilis, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds and almonds in a food processor and pulse 3 times to start the chopping process.  Add the evoo and lemon juice and pulse 4 or 5 times to create a thick paste, (not a thin oily sauce).  Add 2 tbsp cheese and pulse once to mix in, season to taste with salt, more lemon juice, etc.  Set aside.  (Note - If you want to save the pesto and use it later or plan on making extra, transfer the pesto to a container with a tight-fitting lid, pour 2 tbsp more evoo over the top, cover with the lid and refrigerate. This pesto will hold in the fridge like this for 2 weeks.)
Cook pasta in boiling salted water according to package instructions (until just al dente ).   Drain the pasta quickly and lazily - you want the pasta water to still be clinging to the pasta.  Return to the pot and add the pesto.  Toss to coat.  Serve pasta with additional grated cheese, if desired.

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