Passages:Trenette or Trofie al pesto

Dry ribbon pasta or fresh, homemade trofie twists, with green beans and potatoes, sauced with classic basil pesto

By David Downie

Published December 22, 1997 8:00PM (EST)


About 1 1/2 cups tightly packed small basil leaves
1/2 to 1 clove garlic, peeled
3 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/4 cup (50 ml) olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or half Pecorino Sardo and half Parmigiano-Reggiano
Salt (rock salt if using a mortar and pestle)
1 heaping tablespoon prescinsjua (Optional: You may substitute a mixture of 80 to 90 percent ricotta and 10 to 20 percent yogurt.)


4 cups (500 gr) flour
1 pound (500 gr) dried trenette, bavette or similar ribbon pasta (linguini)
20 to 30 fresh green beans
2 medium potatoes or 4 to 5 small new potatoes
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

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Trofie are a fresh peasant-style pasta made with flour, salt and water -- no eggs. No precise recipe for pesto is possible, as everything depends on the strength of the garlic and basil that go into this simple sauce, so make adjustments according to your ingredients and personal preference. This recipe serves 8 to 10.

To make the pesto, wash the basil leaves and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. If the basil has a minty smell or the leaves are tough, blanch it briefly in boiling water, drain and pat it dry. Chop the garlic, removing any green shoots in the heart of the clove. Place the garlic and basil in a food processor or blender, add the pine nuts and pour in about one-third of the oil. Process or pulse, stopping occasionally to press the leaves down with a wooden spoon and to add oil, until the pesto has a slightly chunky texture with some whole pine nuts left. Do not overheat the pesto by excessive blending. Spoon the pesto into a ceramic or other non-metallic bowl. Stir the Parmigiano-Reggiano into the sauce and add salt to taste. Cover the pesto with a film of olive oil until ready to use. To make a milder pesto alla camogliese, add the prescinsjua just before serving.

NOTE: If you are planning to store pesto for any length of time, do not add the cheeses or garlic, since these ingredients slowly ferment; instead, add them just before using the sauce. To store pesto, place it in a glass jar or earthenware container -- never use metal or plastic containers or utensils. Cover the surface of the pesto with a thin film of olive oil to prevent oxidation and discoloration and seal tightly. Pesto can be kept in the refrigerator for several weeks if the garlic and cheese have not been added, or it can be frozen for several months.

To make trofie, place the flour on a board or other work surface and make a well in the center. Sprinkle with salt and gradually add enough cold water to produce a dense, smooth dough that is not too sticky, kneading the dough as you incorporate the water. Pinch off thimble-sized bits of dough and roll them energetically with the palm of your hand clockwise on a large wooden cutting board to shape each piece into a compact twist. Trofie are rustic and should look like rough-cut tortiglioni or fusilli twists, about 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. Allow the trofie to sit at room temperature for several hours before cooking.

Wash and trim the green beans; peel and cut the potatoes into thick slices. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add several large pinches of salt. If you are using dried pasta, add it with the potatoes and green beans to the boiling water. The ingredients should reach the al dente stage at the same time (8 to 10 minutes, depending on the brand of pasta). Alternatively, if you are unsure about the cooking times, boil the beans and potatoes separately until just tender, remove them, boil the pasta in the same water, and just before the pasta is al dente, return the beans and potatoes to the water to finish cooking.

If you are using fresh trofie, boil the beans and potatoes first, and, with a slotted spoon, remove them from the cooking water when they are nearly done. Boil the trofie in the same water, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes, then return the potatoes and green beans to the water to finish cooking. When the trofie rise to the surface, after about 2 to 3 more minutes, they are done. Drain the pasta and vegetables in a colander, place them in a non-metallic bowl and toss with abundant pesto, adding about one tablespoon of the cooking water to thin the pesto if desired. Serve with the grated cheese on the side.

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To make pesto with a mortar and pestle

A marble mortar and olive wood pestle are recommended. Place a handful of the basil leaves in the mortar with a pinch of rock salt and pound, then rotate pestle clockwise, crushing the basil against the side of the mortar. Drizzle in olive oil, add more leaves, a few pine nuts and minced garlic. Continue to add the ingredients slowly, pounding and crushing until you have produced a chunky paste. Dilute with olive oil and incorporate the cheese.

David Downie

David Downie is Salon Travel's correspondent in Paris.

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