My friend Anna has the most interesting collection of old, odd books. She’s amassed all kinds of books on science, nature, gardening, long out-of-print anthologies, and, oftentimes most interestingly, cookbooks. A cookbook from the 1960s or 70s is, for someone who grew up in the 80s and 90s, a fascinating time capsule of how people cooked in the decades before I was born. When we were roommates during college, Anna had a dog-eared old cookbook, the name of which I most certainly can’t remember now, that contained all kinds of recipes that during the late 60s/early 70s might have seemed rather exotic and progressive — but during the age of the Food Network, seems rather commonplace.
It was there I found a recipe that has stuck with me through the years, that I didn’t realize was actually an extremely traditional Italian dish. All I knew it as was pasta with potatoes, green beans and pesto, which sounds like it would be a starchy, sticky mess, but is actually quite creamy and yummy – though definitely a carboload. A Google search revealed it’s really called Pasta alla Genovese, as pesto is a staple of the cuisine of the Ligurian region, where Genoa is located. But I’ve been making it for years now, because it’s relatively inexpensive, extremely filling, and can feed an army. I also like to make my own pesto, but it’s perfectly acceptable to use store-bought pesto, if you’d like to cut down on prep time and cost. The recipes I found online all adhered to the same basic shape that the one I’ve been making does. Martha Stewart’s recipe comes closest to the one I make (the above picture is from that page), though I do a few of my own variations on the recipe, of course. I’m neither from Genoa, nor am I Martha Stewart. I’m someone who vaguely remembers a recipe from a 40 year old cookbook that my college best friend found at a yard sale.
Pasta alla Genovese via Penobscot
- 1/2 cup pine nuts (or walnuts or almonds or even pistachios; they’re all good)
- 4 cups fresh basil leaves (you can toss some fresh parsley in there if you’re short on basil, and I think a little fresh thyme is also quite nice)
- 1/2 cup Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup good olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Combine first four ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pulse until everything is finely chopped, then slowly pour in the olive oil, pulsing until it’s smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Should make about two cups, so you’ll have plenty left over. It’ll keep for a few weeks in a sealed container in the fridge.
- 1/2 pound red potatoes, cubed into small pieces
- 1/2 pound trimmed fresh green beans, cut into two-inch pieces; don’t use frozen beans as they will turn to mush and not be delicious at all
- 1/2 pound pasta; you can use cavatappi or ziti, or you can use linguine; it all depends on how you want to serve it
- Salt and pepper
- 1/2 cup pesto; use more if you like it extra pesto-y
- Chopped fresh tomatoes and shredded parmesan, romano or asiago for topping
Put potatoes in a large pot full of water and bring to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until it starts to get al dente, and then add the green beans. Cook until pasta and potatoes are both done, then drain. Return to pot, and toss with pesto. Top with chopped tomatoes and more cheese. You can eat this for at least two days after you make it, and it’s easily doubled if you’ve got lots of people to feed.