My friend Les keeps a small spiral bound notebook of his “keeper” recipes. A simple, efficient solution to the centuries old (well, maybe not centuries as there hasn’t always been as much of a choice) problem of, “What’s for dinner?” When faced with that question, if there isn’t a new recipe Les wants to try, or dish he’s attempting to replicate from one of the many restaurant meals of his travels, Les will pull out his handy notebook and land upon a family favorite.
I believe that one–if not possibly two?–of my recipes grace the pages of the notebook and for that I am honored. But it’s all the rest that intrigue me. I’ve always been curious about family recipes and community cookbooks, for that is where the real gems lie. The preparation of these dishes tend to be fairly simple and the ingredients none too exotic, but these are the recipes that people return to and there’s always a reason. Sure, sometimes it’s a bland sauce and the accompanying nostalgia but more often than not, there’s some magic in the making.
So, this past Friday while on one of my daily dog walks with Kristin (my friend who Les happily calls, his wife), I was trying to decide what pre-half-marathon pasta dish I should make for Gary. It couldn’t be something too heavy or too spicy, but obviously it had to be something good. Kristin suggested “The Eataly Pasta” from Les’ notebook. Well, if only to catch a glimpse of the notebook, I was intrigued.
A quick look at the ingredients had me thinking “Romesco,” a Spanish sauce made with almonds and red peppers and often served with fish, chicken or lamb. But this sauce was made with tomatoes rather than red peppers (more to my liking), lots of fresh basil and toasted almonds. The ingredients are pureed in the food processor, resulting in a chunky pesto that coats the strands of linguine with which it is tossed. The process was simple and the result…simply delicious! Four out of five in our family were home for dinner on Friday night and we gave Les’ Pasta eight thumbs up (believe me, in a family where everyone’s a food critic, this does not happen often). And my lightest eater even went back for a second serving as big as his first.
The Eataly Pasta will forever be known as Les’ Pasta in our house but take note that Eataly, food emporium extraordinaire, was the original source and that the recipe was found in the now defunct Gourmet magazine. The recipe doesn’t mention this but I am confident that you could easily make a double batch of this sauce and refrigerate or even freeze half for later use. A thin coating of olive oil at the top of the jar would prevent any discoloration. Defrosted and tossed with the linguine and a cup of the pasta cooking liquid would have dinner on the table in as long as it takes to cook the pasta.
Well, now my interest is piqued and all I want to do is cook my way through Les’ notebook. Can I be so bold as to hope for a copy in my Christmas stocking? Les, you’ve got nine months to think about it!
- 3/4 c slivered almonds
- 1 large handful fresh basil leaves (I used 2 c loosely packed)
- 1-2 large garlic cloves (I used 1 1/2 because I am not a huge fan of raw garlic)
- several pinches of kosher salt
- 1 can of drained and seeded San Marzano whole tomatoes or 6 ripe plum tomatoes, quartered (I used canned)
- 1/2 c grated Parmesan or Pecorino
- 1/3 c olive oil
- 1 lb linguine
- In a large skiled, saute the almonds in a little olive oil until toasted (never walk away from toasting nuts--they burn quickly!).
- Let cool, then pulse them in the food processor until they are in coarse pieces ("the size of orzo"). Scoop them out of the processor and set them aside.
- Put the basil, garlic, and a few pinches of salt in the food processor and chop.
- Add the almonds back to the processor (pulling them out keeps them from getting too finely chopped with the basil and garlic) along with the tomatoes, cheese and olive oil.
- Whirl briefly to thoroughly combine.
- Taste and season with salt and freshly ground pepper.
- Cook your linguine until al dente and could use another minute of cooking time.
- Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the rest.
- Return the pasta to the pot and immediately toss the hot linguine with the pesto and mix quickly so that it drinks up the sauce a bit.
- Add the reserved pasta water as needed (I gradually added about 3/4 c).
- Serve this at room temperature.
- I made this dish using Les' suggestion of canned San Marzano whole tomatoes but will certainly try it with ripe plum tomatoes when they are in season. I imagine that the taste might be slightly different but not necessarily better. In the absence of seasonal ingredients, stick with the best quality canned.