Today we had an amazing, simple lunch on the patio. Even though we’re into November, this is about as close to a perfect Summer day as we get in San Francisco: Blue skies, 70-odd degrees with just a slight hint in the air of Fall to come.
This morning while passing through the UCSF hospital after an appointment we came upon a Farmer’s Market right there in the lobby (only in San Francisco, you might say, and apparently only on Wednesdays). Crates of beautiful veggies, all organic and bursting with freshness. We swooped on the heirloom tomatoes, big bunches of basil and coriander, baby new potatoes, green beans and, best of all, ears of corn picked this morning, the vendor assured us.
We raced home to throw the corn on the stove and made some of our favorite coriander butter in the pestle and mortar to douse it with. (It’s very easy to make: Pound 1/4 cup of coriander with a large pinch of salt to form a paste, then add 1 oz. of butter and keep pounding until it’s a lovely green and easy to spread. If you like it spicy, add a few drops of the bright green Chile Habanero sauce which you can find at most supermarkets.) We sliced up a few of the perfectly ripe tomatoes – not squishy as Heirlooms often are – anointed them with basil, a splash of our olive oil from Provence, a smidgeon of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and dug out the last of the chevre we’d brought back from France and plopped in the middle of the plate. With some crusty bread to mop up the juices, we toasted the end of summer with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.
The rest of the basil was of course perfect to make pesto for our favorite pasta dish from Genoa. A local pasta called trenette is mixed with baby new potatoes, either just boiled or par-boiled and fried until a bit crisp in olive oil, cooked green beans, as much pesto as you think you need, and lots of Parmesan. Although it might seem odd to add potatoes to pasta, the different textures work wonderfully. This is a very old dish – it was eaten by Ligurian monks in the 15th century as a Lenten dish – which has become quite popular lately. However, in most recipes I read, the pasta, potatoes and beans are cooked in one pot and I think trying to get everything to come out cooked just right is way too difficult. It’s not much more trouble to cook things separately and better results are assured.
As for the pesto, I love to make it in the pestle and mortar (yes, I’m a P & M freak!) because the flavor and texture are better, but if you don’t have one, the food processor does a perfectly acceptable job. I don’t put pine nuts in this pesto because I don’t think they add to it, but of course you can if you’re so inclined. I also add the parmesan separately, grating it on top of each serving at the table.
Pasta Pesto with New Potatoes and Green Beans
3/4 lb. linguine, spaghetti, or pasta of your choice
12 baby new potatoes (preferably red)
1/2 lb. green beans
2 packed cups basil, large stems removed
1 large clove garlic
salt, pepper, olive oil, parmesan
Make the pesto: Either pound the basil, salt and garlic in a pestle and mortar to form a paste and then add enough olive oil (about 6 or 7 tablespoons) to make a thick emulsion, or do the same in the food processor without letting the pesto become too smooth.
Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the potatoes and cook until almost done (about 15 minutes), or until fully cooked if you don’t plan on frying them. Drain. Cut the potatoes in half and fry them in olive oil on medium-high heat until brown and crisp.
In a separate pot of boiling water, cook the beans uncovered (to preserve their color). Cooking time will depend on how large and fresh the beans are, but 5-8 minutes should do it. Drain.
In the meantime, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, according to the package instructions. (I find that although we like our pasta al dente, packaged pasta instructions generally underestimate the cooking time by about 2 minutes.) Drain well.
Finally, put the beans, potatoes and pasta in your serving dish, add the pesto, and mix together well. Allow each person to grate fresh parmesan and pepper on top as they like. Enjoy!
Sam adds: I make this dish often because it’s so easy and is the favorite of more than one of us. I always fry the potatoes (never just boil them) and I like to add extra pesto and veggies to the mix. For example, I would add 3/4 lb. of beans, 16 potatoes, and 3 cups of basil. (Of course if you up the basil to 3 cups, you’ll have to adjust your olive oil and garlic accordingly: 8-10 tbsp. of oil and 1 1/2 cloves of garlic.)