I cannot emphasize enough two things here. One, freshly made pesto is always going to be 100 times better than a jarred version. And, two, if you're in a time crunch situation with dinner, this recipe is like the universe actually being on your side and helping you out once in a while. All of the ingredients besides the pasta go into a blender and in less than 5 minutes you have a sauce. Sorry, you have a delicious sauce. Some smaller sized pastas actually cook in less time than that! Get at it...
yields 370 g or about 1 1/2 cups
80 g basil (stems too)
50 g spinach leaves
30 g parmesan cheese roughly cut in pieces
10-15 g garlic
30 g toasted pine nuts
1 C (200 ml) high quality olive oil
1 t lemon juice
1/4 t salt
fresh cracked pepper
grated parmesan cheese for garnish
a handful of some of the smaller basil leaves for garnish
pasta water to thin out the sauce
600-700 g pasta of choice
Start boiling a pot of water for your pasta. Salt it very liberally! The water should taste like the sea. Don't roll your eyes or disagree with me unless your doctor says to cut down your salt intake or you will die. End of discussion!
In a blender, place the basil, spinach, parmesan chunks, garlic cloves, pine nuts, salt, pepper and olive oil and turn it on. Let it run for a couple of minutes until the whole thing comes together and there are no more chunks of cheese or garlic. It helps to open the blender, push down the sides and mix it a couple of times. Finally add the lemon juice and check it for seasoning.
This sauce will stay together for a little while but if left in a bowl for an hour or more, it can begin to separate a bit. If this happens just pulse it again in a blender or with a staff mixer until it comes back together.
Once the water is boiling, drop in your pasta and cook it till al dente. Then using a slotted or mesh-like spoon, scoop out the pasta allowing some of the water to drop back down into the pot, but the rest to go into your mixing bowl. You want some of the pasta water to fall in the bowl so it will mix with the sauce or your sauce will end up too thick and/or clumpy after 5 minutes of eating. (Pasta continues to cook even out of the boiling water because it's so hot and it absorbs any liquid around it.) I rarely strain the pasta water with a colander, but if I do, I always save at least a cup of the water in another bowl just in case.
*TIP: If your pasta has space where water can hang out like hide and seek (like a tubed pasta such as penne or a pasta that rolls over itself such as conchiglie, water can hide in there and make the sauce too wet. Sometimes with those pasta shapes I am more careful about how much water goes into the bowl.) Before adding the pesto, check in the bottom of the bowl that there isn't too much water and remember, "you can always add more, but you can never take it out after it's been added." Then add your pesto sauce and mix well. Serve into individual bowls or family style on the table. But whichever way you choose, make sure to have some parmesan for grating, basil leaves for garniture (if fancy is what you desire) and a pepper mill on the table. Enjoy!
A quick last-minute note: To make a pesto in a blender can be more difficult if you cut the recipe in half. You can also do this the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle. All Italians would applaud you. If you only want half of the recipe, you can keep this pesto in the fridge for a few days and it will be a perfect addition to a beet salad, a spread for hors d'oeuvres or even a second helping of pasta the next day. Who cares?