One of the side-effects of lockdown is that I am spending more time – probably too much time – browsing through recipes on Instagram. The upside is that I have time to try out new recipes, or in this case cook dishes that I had forgotten about. A few days ago I saw a post by Rachel Roddy, about making trofie (little twists of pasta) which she cooked with green beans and diced potato, then tossed with pesto alla Genovese. Now, of course, Rachel Roddy made her own fresh pasta, which is not something I aspire to do – even if there were any pasta flour in my cupboard, which there was not. But it did remind me what a great combination this is and sent me back to a Claudia Roden recipe for Trenette al pesto alla genovese. I had some left-over potatoes and half a packet of green beans, so when I found a lovely big bunch of basil in a local shop, the decision about what to cook for lunch was made.
The pasta I had in my drawer was Casarecce – another small-ish rolled pasta, about the same size as half a green bean and with a little channel which I thought would hold the pesto nicely. You can cook the potatoes from scratch or, as I did, use left-over new potatoes – to be exact la Ratte potatoes, which are particularly delectable, waxy new potatoes well worth the extra pennies they cost if you can get hold of them (or grow them, those of you lucky enough to have a garden or allotment). You do need to use new potatoes for this recipe, or they will just fall apart in the pasta water. I have played fast and loose with the proportions of the recipe – Claudia Roden suggests 2 medium new potatoes and 4-6 green beans, but like quite a lot of beans, and I use less olive oil than she suggests in the pesto. You could omit the parmesan, or use a vegan alternative, to make it vegan.
I think a tomato salad is a good accompaniment, but it is perfectly delicious served in solitary splendour. The smell of fresh pesto is a great antidote to cabin fever; it is such a sunny smell that brings memories of being in Italy. For two, but adjust the quantity of pasta to your appetite if you wish.
- 25g fresh basil (weighed with stems)
- 25g pine nuts
- 1 clove garlic
- 3-4 tbsp/45-60ml olive oil
- 2 tbsp grated parmesan
- 4 small waxy new potatoes
- 120g green beans
- 130g caserecce (or trofie or fettuccine or whatever small-ish pasta is in your drawer)
- grated parmesan to serve
First make the pesto: peel and chop the clove of garlic and roughly chop the basil, stems and all. Put all the ingredients into a small blender or food processor and whizz to combine. I started with 3 tbsp of olive oil and then found it needed a little more (Roden uses 75ml of olive oil). Add salt to taste – I used two good big pinches of Maldon salt. If you’re not going to use the pesto immediately spoon it into a jar and film the top with olive oil.
Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. Top and tail the green beans and cut them in half. Peel and dice the potatoes. My pasta took about 10 minutes to cook – if the type you are using has a different cooking time, then you will need to adjust the timings that follow – or cook the vegetables and pasta in separate pans (though you know how much I like to avoid washing up!). If you are using raw potato, put it into the water first and cook for three minutes before adding the pasta – the following instructions are as I cooked it, using cooked potatoes which were at room temperature.
When the water comes to the boil add the pasta and set the timer for 5 minutes, then add the beans and set the timer for 4 minutes. Add the diced potato and cook for another minute or two by which time everything should be cooked and hot. Put a ladleful of the cooking water in a mug, then drain the pasta and vegetables and tip them back in the pan. Stir through the pesto and add the cooking water you set aside a bit at a time until the sauce is the right consistency to coat the pasta nicely. Serve with extra parmesan and a tomato salad if you wish.