From Too Many Chefs -

March 2, 2006
Pasta with Pesto Pantesco

pastapantesco_jf.jpgThose of us who only cook vegetarian dishes at home tend to gravitate towards pasta. It's usually on hand, quick to prepare, easy to veg up. Some vegetarians gravitate to pasta all the time (and probably the Italian vegetarians, too, come to think of it). Well, it was getting to be that time of the week when I thought I'll just whip up some pasta and sauce for dinner. To combat my laziness and boredom I went searching for a pasta dish that was a little different, but still easy to make. I came across this recipe by Mario which is so good that when The Ambassatrix came home and saw (and tasted) the sauce, she thought I had slaved away. I didn't bother to correct her. Then she helped me make another batch of it and said "That's it?" and I said, "Done. No cooking. Guess we can't call ourselves cooks, huh?"

I have no idea what Pantesco means, where it originates, etc. Wikipedia had no entry for it, so I can only assume Mario just made up the word.

My only modification is to cut down on both the red and black pepper. While both the wife and I can eat spicy food, we felt a whole tablespoon of each is too much. Two teaspoons of each was more reasonable (maybe cut it back even more for those of you who are extra-sensitive to the heat) . Oh, and on one occasion (just to see the difference) we put in a bit less than ½ cup of oil. To make it slightly lower in fat, you could drop down to a third of a cup and this dish will still be delicious.

Pasta with Pesto Pantesco

Salt, for the pasta water
½ cup fresh picked mint leaves
½ cup fennel fronds
½ cup fresh picked basil leaves
1 cup fresh picked parsley
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons salt packed capers, soaked,rinsed and drained
4 medium plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 t (or less) freshly ground black pepper
2 t (or less) crushed red pepper flakes, plus extra for garnish
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or a little less, if you want)
1 pound ziti (or any pasta)
1 cup freshly grated locatelli pecorino (or similar)

Bring 6 quarts water to a rolling boil and add 2 tablespoons of salt.

In a blender, place the mint, fennel fronds, basil, parsley, garlic, capers, tomatoes, black pepper, red pepper flakes, and half of the olive oil. Process in short bursts until roughly chopped. Turn blender on full speed and drizzle in the remaining oil. Process until almost smooth, about 1 minute. Remove the resulting pesto from the blender and place in a large bowl. Set aside for 1 hour.

Note: After doing this a few times, I suggest putting the tomatoes in the blender first. I had a tough time getting my blending on with all the herbs at the bottom.

Cook the pasta according to the package directions until just al dente. Drain well and place the cooked pasta in the bowl with the pesto, and toss like a salad to coat. Sprinkle the pasta with the grated locatelli pecorino and chili flakes. Serve it up.

I would recommend mixing this with very plain pasta. Nothing like Pumpkin Sage ravioli.

I like to serve this with a something chill like Indigo Girls and a refreshing mojito (I promise, after this--no more mojitos) to go along with the mint in the sauce while at the same time countering the burn.

Now go brush your teeth because you undoubtedly have some flecks of herbs in there.

Posted by Justin in Bogotá at March 2, 2006 7:46 AM

Wow. That looks amazingly yummy! I have done a bit of vegetarianism myself and love the pasta. I will definitely have to look for fennel and capers in Kyoto.

Posted by Hanna on March 2, 2006 at 7:50 AM

If you can't find capers, you could use olives and I think that'd be a good substitution. Honestly, the capers aren't the biggest flavor in the sauce. As for could up the proportions on the other herbs. Ah, the joys of cooking abroad.

Posted by Justin on March 2, 2006 at 8:22 AM

I believe "pantesco" means "without pants".

Or in this case, it means "looks delicious". You're right about vegetarians often resorting to pasta. I try really hard not to do too many pasta dishes because I burn out on the stuff quickly.

Posted by barrett on March 2, 2006 at 9:24 AM

Actually, "pantesco" refers to anything from Pantelleria, a Sicilian island that's supposed to have the best capers in the world, so making it without capers would be kind of sacreligeous. (Or perhaps sacrilicious, depending on if you like capers...)

Posted by Sweth on March 2, 2006 at 10:32 AM

(What's the sea salt for, by the way?)

Posted by Sweth on March 2, 2006 at 10:45 AM

Uh, the sea salt is a duplicate ingredient. Thanks for pointing that out. I deleted it. Also, thanks for the etymology lesson.

Posted by Justin on March 2, 2006 at 10:53 AM

Sweth, we hate careful readers like you! (Just kidding... ;))

That sounds fantastic. Do you think you could use some fennel bulb in place of part of the fronds? I've never seen the fronds sold separately and on the bulb there is usually only a little wispy bit.

Posted by Meg in Paris on March 2, 2006 at 10:54 AM

I'm not sure about substituting the bulb for the frond. I certainly encourage experimentation, but I fear the bulb would be too strong a taste. Or you could buy a few bunches (enough to get 1/4 cup of fronds) and roast the bulbs as a side dish another day.

Posted by Justin on March 2, 2006 at 11:21 AM