As Nancy Harmon Jenkins wrote about this pesto pasta in the New York Times in 1997, "The most elegant pasta dish that Italian cooks have ever invented is astonishingly simple to make, especially now that pesto is made with a food processor instead of a mortar and pestle." (Although Jenkins would also like us to try pesto made by hand just once, to experience the silky texture.) In this traditional pesto pasta from the Liguria region of Italy, all of the vegetables cook along with the pasta in one pot. This shortcut is both faster than cooking the vegetables separately and makes the pasta taste better, too, as the noodles absorb some of the flavor from the vegetables as they cook. This is commonly done in Italy with all kinds of vegetables, especially greens, including tenerumi (the young leaves of a Sicilian squash) and frequently broccoli rabe. The vegetables may cook slightly differently each time you make this dish, but that’s part of the beauty of it. Rely on your gut and your own personal tastes—if you like your green beans very crisp (or they’re looking very thin and tender), add them a bit later, and so forth. Adapted slightly from The New York Times (September 17, 1997). —Genius Recipes
packed tender young basil leaves
plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with flat blade of a knife
extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, or more to taste
Salt to taste
small potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
tender young green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
Make the pesto: In the bowl of a food processor, add the basil, pine nuts, salt, and garlic. Pulse until the mixture is coarse and grainy. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Add the cheese and process just enough to mix well. If the sauce is too dry, add a little more oil. Taste and add more cheese or salt, if desired.
Bring 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil. Add at least 2 tablespoons of salt and the potato slices. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until potatoes have started to soften but are not cooked through. Add green beans, and continue boiling another 5 minutes.
Add pasta, and stir. Start testing the pasta at 5 minutes. When it is done, and when the potatoes and beans are tender, drain and turn the pasta and vegetables immediately into preheated bowl. Add the pesto, and mix thoroughly. Serve immediately.
Genius recipes surprise us and make us rethink cooking tropes. They're handed down by luminaries of the food world and become their legacy. They get us talking and change the way we cook. And, once we've folded them into our repertoires, they make us feel pretty genius too. Watch for new Genius Recipes every Wednesday morning on our blog, dug up by Food52's Creative Director Kristen Miglore.