No, this pistachio pesto pasta is not classic, but after trying this recipe, you might just prefer it to the original version with pine nuts!
First, why pistachio for pesto? For this wild idea, I gotta thank my frugal inner housewife. I love a good pesto pasta, but the price of pine nuts has skyrocketed. There was a time I bought it for about RM16.90, and even then my tooth was aching from the price. The last time I checked several months ago, the same amount of nuts cost RM27.90! No way!!!
One night, I was snacking on pistachios which I bought wholesale in Ipoh for very reasonable RM25 per 500g. Then it occurred to me, these nuts are creamy and buttery, making them a perfect candidate for pesto.
I googled pistachio pesto and turned out there IS such a thing.
I shared my idea with hubs, and he set to work.
The result was the most luxuriously creamy, deliciously decadent plate of pesto pasta I’d ever eaten – move over, pine nuts!
The steps for making pesto pasta are deceptively easy but there are some key principles that can make or break your dish
1. Do not use too much garlic.
In my first few attempts at making pesto, I always added more garlic than stipulated in the recipe ingredient list My logic? Coming from an Asian background, we use garlic rather generously in many savoury dishes as it’s a wonderful way to flavour the oil as you stir-fry. So I thought, the more the tastier.
That’s where I made my mistake. You see, pesto is a no-cook sauce. The garlic is added RAW and never cooked at all. Raw garlic is very pungent, and can easily overpower the rest of the ingredients. So you want just enough to get an aromatic hint, or else the whiff will whack you like you’re a vampire.
2. Roast the nuts
To achieve a pesto with tons of flavour, roast the nuts before using them in a pesto. Roasting brings out and amplifies the nuts’ aroma.
3. Add more oil and lemon juice than you think you need.
Always. Keep adding until you think it’s too much – trust me. The oil acts as a lubricant and prevents the pesto from drying up. The acidity in the lemon juice cuts through the creaminess, providing a bright, zippy contrast.
Mortar and pestle OR food processor?
I’ve tried using both. For me, old school wins by a mile. A mortar and pestle yields a more rustic result, yet the sauce is silkier. The food processor version has a more uniform appearance and less textural interest. The mortar and pestle pesto was also more deeply infused with the original flavours of the ingredients.
Finally, a note about cooking the pasta. Definitely a no-brainer, but in this recipe, hubs cooks the pasta in the same pan where he brings together the sauce. I’ve seen The Pasta Queen, Donal Skehan and Martha Stewart use variations of this method. Basically, you can do this if you have a wide and deep enough saucepan to place all your pasta flat in the centre without breaking any strands. Fill pan with just enough water to cover the pasta and bring to the boil. When the water is nearly dry, the pasta should be cooked. That’s when you add the pesto sauce.
Pistachio Pesto Pasta
- Saucepan, mortar and pestle, chopping board
- 150g pasta of choice ( we used angel hair)
Enough water to cover pasta in saucepan
1 cup basil leaves
1 clove garlic
30g pistachio flesh, toasted
1/2 cup olive oil or more
4 tbs lemon juice or more
2 tbs grated parmesan cheese
- Chop up basil leaves finely.
- Pound pistachios; doesn't have to be too fine.
- Mince garlic.
- In a mortar and pestle, mix garlic and basil, then add pistachios. Add in olive oil slowly. Start with half a cup, then add more if necessary. Finally add parmesan.
- In a deep, flat bottomed saucepan, boil water with salt added. Estimate the amount water to just be enough to cover the pasta. Add pasta and cook according to the time stated in the package.
- When water has ALMOST but not completely dry up, stir in the pesto paste and mix thoroughly. You need the water to make a sauce.
- Add in lemon juice. If sauce is too dry, add more olive oil.
- Check for seasoning. Add cracked black pepper and salt (if necessary). Your pasta is ready to be served!