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Spaghetti with Pesto Sauce - Spaghetti al Pesto

User Rating 2.5 Star Rating (2 Reviews)


Pesto Spaghetti
Chris Ted/Photodisc/Getty Images
The word pesto derives from pestare, to step on or mash, and therefore can be applied to a number of different sauces. However, to an Italian the word pesto by itself means the classic Ligurian summer sauce made with basil, garlic, pine nuts, and cheese. This recipe will serve 4 to 6 as a first course or four as a main course with a tossed salad.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 4 Servings Spaghetti al Pesto


  • 45 leaves freshly picked basil (about a packed cup)
  • 1/4 cup grated aged pecorino (Tuscan or Sardinian, because Romano is too sharp)
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano (increase this to 3/4 cup if you cannot find the pecorino)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2/3 cup the best olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (technically optional though almost everybody includes them)
  • 1/3 cup walnut meats (optional)
  • 1 pound (500 g) spaghetti


If you have a marble mortar and wish to use it (purists say neither brass nor wood mortars will work), put the salt, garlic, nutmeats and basil in it and grind the mixture, firmly crushing the ingredients against the sides of the mortar, rather than striking sharp blows with the pestle. When the mixture is ground, add the cheese, a bit at a time, continuing to grind, and when it is all worked in, add the oil in a slow stream, stirring with a wooden spatula. The resulting pesto should be smooth and creamy.

If you are using a food processor instead, chop the garlic, basil, nutmeats, and salt, being careful not to let the mixture liquefy, then transfer it to a bowl and stir in the grated cheese and the oil.

Cook a pound of pasta in lightly salted water, and just before you drain it stir two tablespoons of hot water into the sauce. Pour the sauce over the pasta and serve. The wine? The bitter sea tang of a good Vermentino would offset the garlic perfectly.

This sauce is also perfect for making lasagne al pesto, which are amazingly refreshing on a hot day, perhaps even more so when served cool.

Yield: 4-6 servings spaghetti al pesto.

My Reply to Rasna36:
I know that in Liguria people serve trenette rather than spaghetti with pesto sauce. Indeed, the photo shows trenette al pesto, made with the string beans and potatoes Ligurians generally add to the pasta. Outside of Liguria, however, trenette are not as popular, and many people use spaghetti instead. Not strictly authentic, but I find this substitution less bothersome than, say, substituting Gorgonzola for Parmigiano. I've seen that, too, and it makes for a very different sauce I'm not sure I would call Pesto alla Genovese.

Kyle Phillips, Your Guide to Italian Cooking

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