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Pasta with Sicilian pistachio pesto

Pesto has become such a common sauce and you can get bottled varieties at almost any store. These sauces are generally submerged under a thick layer of oil and miss the nuances of a freshly made pesto. I have learned over the years that pesto is best if consumed fresh. It has delicate notes that are lost when stored or bottled.

The flavor and elegance of a freshly made light pesto sauce is highlighted in this amazing but simple recipe. The addition of toasted pistachio nuts, instead of pine nuts, adds a wonderful sweet nuttiness to the sauce. With the salty pecorino cheese, instead of Parmesan, the sauce is complex, yet subtle.

I changed the recipe and used ridged penne instead of traditional Casarecce pasta, but you can use any pasta that the sauce can cling on to, usually with folds or ridges. Here is a pretty good list of pasta shapes that we should all learn and you can use as a guide. In addition, I added some vegetables, zucchini for a crunch and cherry tomatoes for a touch of acid. The dish was truly superb, complex, creamy and full of flavor.

This is an outstanding cookbook from the master of Sicilian cooking. Every recipe I have cooked has been exceptional, like this pesto sauce, and most recipes are simple. The subtle differences in Sicilian cooking, from Italian cooking, are highlighted, as well as, the chef's love of the land and its produce. This is a wonderful cookbook to have on your shelf.

For more recipes from the fabulous cookbook, click here.


1 cup shelled pistachios, divided in two portions

2-3 garlic cloves

2 cups basil

1/4 cup EVOO

1/2 cup pecorino cheese + more for grating as a garnish

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Salt, to taste. Note the cheese is very salty.

Penne or any pasta that has ridges or spirals that can hold the sauce

Vegetables (optional):

Cherry tomatoes, kept whole or halved

Zucchini, cut into fine dice

Roast the pistachio nuts in the oven or on a pan on low heat till toasted and aromatic. Roughly chop half the pistachio nuts and set aside.

In a small blender purée half the pistachio nuts, garlic, cheese, pepper, oil and salt till smooth. If you do not have enough liquid add a touch more oil or water to help the puréeing process. You are looking for a very thick sauce. Set aside.

Cook the pasta as per the manufacturer's directions minus 1 minute. to keep it al dante. Drain saving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

Toss the hot pasta with the pesto sauce and the vegetables. If you feel the pesto is too thick, add some of the pasta cooking liquid to dilute it. Grate some more pecorino on top and sprinkle the remaining chopped pistachios. Serve immediately.

NOTE: The pasta is best served fresh, on the day it is prepared. To heat the pasta and pesto, toss well and heat in the microwave till warm. Do not overheat the pesto, the oils tend to separate out and the pesto turns goopy.

You can make a large batch of this pesto and freeze it. Thaw at room temperature, do not thaw in microwave.

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