Sometimes I yearn for a pesto sauce that packs a bit more of a punch that the regular basil and pine nut version especially when the quality of shop bought basil can be patchy – who else has splashed out on a packet recently only to find that the leaves are all pretty much too far gone? This version is still packed with flavour but, when you lift it with lashings of lemon juice and chilli flakes, the flavours and textures are out of this world. Toasting the nuts first gives the flavour an extra dimension and I’ve mixed them here with hazelnuts to stretch out the more expensive pistachios. This recipe will give you way too much sauce for this pasta dish but any remaining pesto will keep in a sealed container in the fridge for up to a week. Try mixing it with 200g feta, 100g or ricotta, 200g of wilted spinach and the zest of a lemon to create a tasty filling for a simple filo-wrapped pie. I will give you the recipe for that very soon.
80g pistachios, shelled
80g blanched hazelnuts
1 large bunch mint, leaves picked
1 garlic clove, peeled and roughly chopped
1-2 lemons, zested and juiced (I use two)
200ml extra-virgin olive oil
60g Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated plus extra to serve
A generous pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground mixed peppercorns
400g good quality orecchiette pasta
A couple of handfuls of baby spinach leaves
Pul biber, to garnish (optional)
How I make it
First, lightly toast the nuts in a hot frying pan stirring all the time to prevent them from burning. Then place the toasted nuts, mint and garlic in a mini food processor and pulse until you have a relatively fine paste. Turn out into a medium bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, cheese and chilli flakes (if using). Mix together and season to your taste.
Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the pack. Drain and stir through half the pesto and the spinach leaves. Turn out on to warmed platter and garnish with the lemon zest, finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and pul biber (if using).