Tuesday, May 12, 2020

White Pesto Pasta

I really like pasta. Sometimes I make something homey, like these Old-World manicotti, but often I want something simpler. I tried a recipe from 3 fois par jour which was, seemingly, a simple sauce made with red lentils and walnuts, mixed with ricotta, and served with broken-up lasagna pasta. It sounded great in theory, but it made an obscene amount of sauce (it was meant for 2 servings of pasta, and I ate more than that, and still put 2 containers in the freezer), and it was bland. I eventually doctored up the rest of the sauce with butter (channeling my inner Marcella Hazan), herbs, and meatballs.

The simple recipe that was the best in recent memory was Bon Appétit’s white pesto pasta. It’s supposed to serve 4, but with 1 pound of pasta, it was certainly enough for 2 meals for us. I really liked this! It’s easy to make (once you’ve got your lactose-free ricotta, and even that is more of a mental hurdle than a physical one) – it all goes in one bowl, no food processor needed!

I’m reprinting my recipe for lactose-free ricotta below; note that it makes about twice as much as you need for this dish.

For the ricotta (yield: about 8 oz.)
3 cups lactose-free whole milk
1 cup lactose-free cream (if unavailable, use 1 more cup lactose-free whole milk and see note above)
½ tsp coarse sea salt
3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

Pour the milk, cream and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Heat the milk to 190 °F, stirring it occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice, then stir it once or twice, gently and slowly. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.

Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (to catch the whey). Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the curds strain for at least an hour. At an hour, you’ll have a tender, spreadable ricotta. At two hours, it will be spreadable but a bit firmer, almost like cream cheese. (It will firm as it cools, so do not judge its final texture by what you have in your cheesecloth.) Discard the whey, or, if you’re one of those crafty people who use it for other things, of course, save it. Use the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.

For the white pesto pasta
½ cup walnuts (honestly, I think pecans would work too)
kosher salt
4 oz. lactose-free ricotta (see above)
zest of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, finely grated
2 tsp. finely chopped oregano
2 oz. finely grated parmesan (about 1 ½ cups), plus more for serving
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. tube- or rod-shaped pasta (such as rigatoni or spaghetti)

Preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until golden brown, 6–8 minutes. Let cool, then finely chop. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil.

Vigorously mix walnuts, ricotta, lemon zest, garlic, oregano, and 2 oz. parmesan in a large bowl until well combined. Add oil 1 Tbsp. or so at a time, stirring well after each addition, until all the oil is incorporated. Season pesto with salt and pepper.

Cook pasta in pot of boiling water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Scoop 1 cup pasta cooking liquid into bowl with pesto and stir gently to combine (it’s okay if some of the pesto is still in small clumps). Using a spider, tongs, or slotted spoon, transfer pasta directly to bowl with pesto. Mix energetically until pesto thickens enough to lightly coat pasta, about 2 minutes; the pasta should have sauce clinging to it but there should also be some extra sauce that collects in bottom of bowl.

Divide pasta among bowls and serve with more parmesan alongside for sprinkling over.

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