I love pesto in all of its forms: traditional and modern versions alike. I especially love this green olive-pistachio variation as it always proves to be satisfying and it's incredibly quick to assemble. Being able to add this to fresh pasta, like chitarra, only makes it better.
Technique tip: I prefer making this pesto by hand, because it leaves a great mix of textures, instead of the uniformity of the food processor. I use a large mortar and pestle (around 7 inches or bigger). It should hold around 4 cups of water. If you only have a smaller one, you may need to make the pesto in 2 batches. In that case, simply cut ingredients in half for both batches and combine at the end to mix.
Swap option: You can swap in 1 pound of dried spaghetti if you do not have time to make fresh pasta or buy fresh pasta sheets. Then, for more of an addition, add shrimp or pulled chicken to this dish for some protein. You can add it to the last step when you combine with the pesto and stir it all together.
Special equipment: Chitarra pasta tool with rolling pin
Fresh chitarra pasta (makes 4 entrée portions)
- 3 cups Italian 00 pasta flour
- 5 whole eggs
- 1/2 cup semolina, for dusting
- 1/2 cup shelled unsalted pistachios
- 1/2 clove garlic
- 1 cup parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup tarragon leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 cup green Castelvetrano olives, pitted
- 1/4 cup capers
- 1/4 cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest (from one whole lemon)
- 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Fresh chitarra pasta or 1 pound pasta sheets, made into chitarra pasta
- 1 bunch thin asparagus, chopped into coins
- 8 quarts water
- 1/3 cup kosher salt, for pasta water
For the fresh chitarra pasta:
1. Place all ingredients into a stand mixer bowl with the dough hook attachment. Run mixer on a low speed for approximately 4 minutes, or until a homogenous pasta dough has formed.
2. Move to a clean work surface and knead the dough with no additional flour for about 4-5 minutes, until dough is completely smooth. Tightly wrap with plastic and move to the refrigerator to rest, at least 20 minutes.
3. To roll out the dough, remove it from the plastic wrap onto a clean work surface and cut into 2 equal pieces. Move one piece to the side and cover with a clean towel.
4. Flatten the other piece of dough into a rectangle using your hand. Using a pasta roller (either the pasta attachment on a stand mixer or a manual hand-crank pasta roller), run the dough through the machine at its widest setting.
5. Fold the flattened dough into thirds, creating another rectangle. Feed the dough through the same wide setting once again, with the open edge (not the fold side) through the roller first. Repeat this step two more times.
6. Decrease the width setting by one notch and roll the pasta through again. Repeat, each time decreasing the setting by one notch until reaching the third-to-last setting (on most rollers), or the setting that creates a sheet that is 1/8th of an inch in thickness. Dust work surface with semolina flour and set aside, covering with a dry towel until ready to cut. Repeat steps 4-6 with remaining dough (if using store-bought pasta sheets, start here to form the chitarra spaghetti. Cut the pasta into sheets 12 inches long. Transfer each sheet to a flour-dusted, parchment paper-lined sheet tray).
7. To cut into chitarra, lay one pasta sheet on top of the chitarra strings. Sprinkle a little semolina on top of the pasta sheet. Use a small rolling pin to push the sheet through the strings, cutting the pasta into ribbons. Toss with flour and spread onto a floured parchment sheet; then repeat with all pasta until finished.
8. Let the pasta dry for 30 minutes before cooking.
For the pesto:
1. Using a dry sauté pan on medium-low heat, toast the pistachios until lightly browned on all sides, shaking the pan every so often, for about three minutes.
2. In a large, heavy granite or marble mortar and pestle, combine the pistachios, garlic and herbs. Firmly smash the ingredients at the bottom of the mortar using the pestle, twisting the pestle around the bottom in a circular motion every 15-20 seconds. Once ingredients are softened, continue to work ingredients in a circular motion for about 1 minute.
3. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, olives and capers, and continue to combine the ingredients together using both the smashing and circular motions with the pestle. You may want to loosen the mixture from the sides every now and then with a small spoon.
4. Add in the remaining 4 tablespoons of olive oil, cheese, lemon juice, lemon zest and pepper flakes. Continue to press down and stir using the pestle until the mixture resembles a pesto. From start to finish the pesto should take about 4 minutes of work in the mortar.
5. When ready to eat, bring 8 quarts of salted water to a boil in large stock pot with a pasta basket insert. Add fresh pasta and cook for 2 minutes, then add in the asparagus rounds and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until pasta is just al dente. Drain.
Add pesto into a large serving bowl, pour hot pasta over the top and stir to combine. Ladle 1/2 cup of pasta water and stir to make a sauce. Serve immediately.