One-Pot Wonders

Pesto Pasta With Green Beans & Potatoes From Nancy Harmon Jenkins

August 13, 2019
12 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food styling: Sam Seneviratne. Prop Styling: Brooke Deonarine.
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 8
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 2 cups packed tender young basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with flat blade of a knife
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, or more to taste
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 pound small potatoes, peeled and sliced about 1/4-inch thick
  • 1/4 pound tender young green beans, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1 pound trenette, or other long, thin pasta
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • j.
  • Steve Miller
    Steve Miller
  • urbancooknyc
  • Diana Maureen Sandberg
    Diana Maureen Sandberg
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

9 Reviews

Amy B. May 19, 2021
Love this recipe. So easy and quick to pull together. The steps should be modified as others mention. Add the potatoes and cook for 5 minutes. Then add the green beans and cook for 5 minutes. Pull out the potatoes and green beans and set aside. Add the pasta to the cooking water and cook until al dente. Drain, and then combine it all together in the pan adding in the pesto. I did find that the 2T of salt wasn't enough, so I seasoned with Maldon and fresh parmesan to finish it off.
j. January 1, 2020
True Italians will never forgive me for diverging a bit, but when I make this, I use small, waxy/new potatoes, cut them in half and don’t peel them. They don’t dissolve that way. I also put them into the pot only a couple minutes before the pasta (in general - I just keep poking ‘me with a fork and then add the pasta when they’re barely fork-tender). I then add the green beans during the last 3-4 minutes. All this depends on the size of the vegetables, but that’s the general way I’ve been doing it and it never seems to fail.
j. January 1, 2020
Ahem - ‘poking ‘em’. I hate autocorrect....
Steve M. November 26, 2019
I’ve made this twice, and both times needed to tweak it. First off, 6 cups of water is not nearly enough. Both times, the pot ran out of liquid just before the pasta was cooked. The second time, I used 9 cups and still ran out. By the time the pasta is finished, the potatoes have dissolved into mush, the pasta is sticking to the pot, and there is nothing to drain. My best guess is that I used potatoes that were too big. But still, the second time I made it, I cut the cooking time from 5 to 4 minutes for the vegetables and still had pasta in carb slush at the end. Don’t get me wrong. This is delicious, and the pesto is great. But somehow the timing needs revisited. I’d like to see it at the end with the potatoes cooked but still recognizable. I’ve thought about cooking the vegetables and pasta separately, but that violates the “one pot” principle.
Diana M. December 8, 2019
Recipe says "6 quarts of water". That's 4 x the amount.
BR95510 August 28, 2019
I have made a similar recipe, but the potatoes were removed from the water before adding the beans, which were then removed before adding the pasta (all to the same water). The potatoes held together better. Also I reluctantly added the "2 tablespoons of salt" (thankfully no more) and I should have followed my instincts. All I could taste was salt. I didn't mind the broken/mushier potatoes, but overall, this one isn't as good as the one from Cooks Illustrated. Sorry....
DeeCee August 16, 2019
This is a recipe that my long-gone grandparents made and a fond memory from my childhood. My grandfather was in charge of making the pesto with the mortar and pestle, grandma cooked the pasta with the potatoes, no string beans. Her variation was to add ricotta to the pesto with a little water from the pasta (and maybe more grated cheese) to reach a creamy consistency, then toss with the pasta! You have to try this! None of my friends/acquaintances throughout the years had ever heard of something as crazy as having potatoes with pasta, so I was happy to see this. Every once in awhile I’ll do a “cheat” version with store bought pesto - but, of course, I have never found one that’s as good as my grandfather’s.
SCalabretta August 14, 2019
I had pesto in the fridge, so this became my lunch today. I subbed peas for beans (because that's what I had) and used orecchiette instead of a long pasta. Very quick to prepare and more filling and delicious that the plain old pesto pasta I had planned.
urbancooknyc August 14, 2019
This is a great recipe, albeit as you mentioned in the article very basic for Italians. I’ve been cooking this type of pasta recipe this exact way for a long long time!!!