I may not look like it, but I’m pretty damn Italian.
^^ That picture? Two whitey white kids with blonde hair? Case in point. (Sidenote: when I posted this picture of me & my brother on Facebook, one of my friends aptly noted that we look like we “just got off the boat from Holland.”)
No, but seriously, my mom’s family is quite Italian. They have hailed from New York (AKA Land of the Italians) since all the way back when my great-grandmother — after whom I was named — came to Ellis Island from Italy as a wee child. (Sorry, a bit of my Irish grandma who married my great grandma’s Italian son got in there! Identity crisis much?)
The result of this upbringing on my Pop was then transferred to my mom and now to me: an intense love of homemade Italian food. Italian food at every important family meal. Christmas? Italian food. Birthdays? Italian food. Thanksgiving? …OK OK, my mom hasn’t gone so far as to introduce pasta on Thanksgiving to my dad’s West Coast family…but I wouldn’t put it past her.
I mentioned in (the comments section of) my recipe for homemade tomato sauce that my mom has always made sauce from scratch. In addition to that, she does a lot of stuffed shells and stuffed cannelloni. But there’s something that she has started doing in the past few years that I finally got on board with trying for myself: homemade pesto pasta.
My parents have a walnut tree and a pretty steady supply of basil during the summer, so when fall comes around and the walnuts start dropping from our tree, my mom whips up a bunch of tubs of pesto to freeze and use later.
To make my pesto, I used……what I had on hand. Which included hazelnuts. It made for a really interestingly spicy pesto, which I decided to pair with an interestingly spicy sausage, and it resulted in an amazingly delicious pasta dish.
Spicy Pesto Pasta with Sausage
makes 2 generous servings
~2 cups uncooked whole wheat farfalle or penne pasta (2 servings)
1/3 cup prepared pesto (recipe below)
2 spicy Italian sausages (I have no clue what kind mine were because they were left in my freezer after a BBQ. They were hot and I think they had jalapenos in them :-P)
1/2 green bell pepper, cut into strips
1/4 cup scallions or onion, diced
1 clove garlic, finely minced
Parmesan, for garnish (optional)
2 heaping cups basil
1/4 cup hazelnuts (traditionally, you could use pine nuts or walnuts, but I liked how the hazelnuts paired with the sausage)
1 clove garlic
2-3 tbsp olive oil
Prepare pesto by combining basil, hazel nuts and garlic in a food processor. Process until it’s the consistency of a paste, then drizzle in olive oil until it reaches your preferred consistency. Set aside.
Bring salted water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente, per package instructions. When pasta is finished, reserve about 1 cup of the pasta water. Set aside.
While pasta is cooking, prepare veggies and slice sausages into medallion shaped pieces. Heat a little bit of olive oil on a skillet at medium-high heat. Add sausage and brown on both sides, probably about 5 minutes total. Set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel. If needed, add a little more olive oil, followed by the bell pepper, garlic, and scallions. Use pasta water to deglaze the pan if needed.
Once vegetables are tender, turn stove down to medium heat and add pesto to the pan. If desired, thin it out with about 1/2 a cup of pasta water. Stir everything to coat. Add sausage back in, again stirring to coat. Let the sauce heat through for about 5 minutes before adding in the pasta and mixing everything together. If the pesto is still too chunky for your liking, add in more pasta water.
Garnish with Parmesan (since we left it out of the pesto) and devour.
Note: My family prefers to use bowtie (farfalle) pasta when we make pesto because the sauce really clings to all the little folds. I used penne and it worked just fine! Just look for something with ridges, you don’t want a smooth pasta.
Spicy sausage simmering in herby oily nutty sauce. What could be better?