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A bright and flavourful pesto recipe with a twist

Skip pine nuts, add pista and ditch the cheese if you want a vegan version

Celebrate summer with a reimagined pesto recipe. (Nathalie Jolie, Unsplash)
Celebrate summer with a reimagined pesto recipe. (Nathalie Jolie, Unsplash)

It’s been a good year for pesto. In the spring, it went viral, thanks to enterprising TikTok users who started adding it to eggs in place of butter or oil. Fans applauded the ease with which it could flavor a range of preparations, whether scrambled or sunny side up.

It also benefited from David Kinch, chef-owner of the Michelin three-starred restaurant Manresa in Los Gatos, Calif., who made a version with avocado that provides a California take on what he calls “the greatest sauce in Italian cuisine.”

Now that basil is taking over most gardens, there’s a new version of pesto to obsess over. It features pistachios and—even more unconventionally—lime. But the result is a powerful green sauce for home cooks to use in celebrating the rest of summer.

The recipe is featured in the upcoming cookbook Sicilia: A Love Letter to the Food of Sicily by Ben Tish (Bloomsbury; Aug. 10; $32). Tish is a chef whose London restaurants include the celebrated Norma, where the focus is on Sicilian food. He’s had previous cookbooks that covered southern Italy, including Moorish recipes, but this is his first deep dive into the storied, diverse Mediterranean island.

The book is dedicated to various aspects of the cuisine, ranging from the strong Arabic influence to the importance of frying. There are recipes for everything from the non-Sicilian-sounding street food lasagna bread (filled with cherry tomatoes, basil, and provolone) to smoky artichokes with lemon and the long, thin local sausages known as salsicca, with red wine and grapes.

In the process of researching, Tish came across this singular pesto from the Bronte region, known for the quality of its pistachios. “Very simply, they use pistachio instead of other nuts, as there’s so many kicking around,” says Tish. “Everything has pistachios in it.” If you can find Bronte nuts, use them; they’ll make the pesto brighter green.

The addition of lime was Tish’s hack. “Normally, it would be lemon,” he says. “The lime just seemed right to me. The recipe is 70% authentic.” Tish also chose to take cheese out of the sauce and make it an optional garnish because he wanted to make it vegan.

His version is one of the brightest, freshest-tasting versions of the sauce you will find. It’s ideal for summer, especially if you’re feeling a little burned-out on the classic version. The pistachios add an underlying sweetness you don’t usually find, but the real surprise is the hit of summery, tangy lime.

Combined with the garlic, it’s a refreshing touch that grabs your attention. The sauce’s flavors come through best when the pasta is served at room temperature or chilled for a picnic or al fresco meal.

Tish notes that his recipe isn’t without drama. “Each region of Italy has a closely guarded food culture, and they all believe if it’s not their recipe, it’s sacrilege. None more so than Sicily, who believe they shouldn’t even be part of Italy.”

He notes that the people of Genoa believe that pesto shouldn’t be made anywhere else because the basil and pine nuts aren’t so good. “They simply will not accept that a pesto could be made in Sicily. They the think the addition of pistachios is a crime.” He says that some people have come to his restaurant and expressed their opinion. “They kick up and refuse to eat it.” Try the recipe and you’ll know: It’s their loss.

The following recipe is adapted from Sicilia, by Ben Tish.

Sicilian Pesto Pasta

Serves 4

3 cups loosely packed basil leaves

1 small bunch parlsey (about 3.5 oz.), stems discarded

1 small garlic clove, peeled

½ cup toasted salted pistachios (about 2.5 oz), plus more to garnish

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

4 tsp. fresh lime juice

1 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to finish

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 lb. dried spaccatelle, casarecce, or other short tubular pasta shape

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for garnish

½ cup fresh ricotta, plus more to finish

In a blender, combine the basil leaves, parsley leaves, garlic, pistachio nuts, lime zest, and juice, and pulse until roughly chopped. With the machine on, pour in the olive oil until smooth. Season well with salt and pepper.

In a large pot, cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to package directions. Drain, reserving a little of the pasta cooking water. In the pot, mix the pasta with a splash of olive oil, a little of the pasta cooking water, and about half the pesto. Stir in the Parmesan and check consistency; it should be saucy. If necessary, add more pesto. Off the heat, stir in the ricotta. Spoon into bowl, garnish with a few pistachios and a little more ricotta and serve warm, at room temperature.  

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