Every time I make this someone asks me for the recipe. It comes from The Complete America's Test Kitchen TV Show Cookbook, the careful product of ten years of overthought and over-testing. Reading the collection in one sitting isn't recommended. Every single recipe starts with a complaint that goes something like this: "Restaurant [insert food] is frequently bland, greasy, and flavorless. Homemade versions are worse. The outside is burnt, and the inside is a mushy disaster. We set out to develop a version that would be perfect in every way to all tastes and be ready in under thirty minutes..."
However, every single recipe I've tried from them has been good. Maybe even great, as long as you don't care about authenticity. They definitely got it right this time. The pasta isn't too garlicky, it stays green, and the day it is made it is so good it's hard to share it. It's still great the next day, but not as good cold out of the refrigerator, so let it warm up. I doubled the recipe in the picture above, and it made A LOT of pasta salad.
There are a million possible variations: add olives, substitute sun dried tomatoes, fold in baby spinach leaves. Just don't mess with the sauce.
2 garlic cloves
1 pound bow tie pasta or penne
1/4 cup olive oil plus a little more to toss with the pasta
3 cups packed basil leaves (about 4 ounces)
1 cup packed baby spinach (shocker, I know- that's why it stays green)
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
salt and pepper
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts, plus more to toss into the salad if you like
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
6 tablespoons mayonnaise (mayo? really? but it's good)
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1. Heat up a large pot of boiling water. Salt it until it tastes pleasantly salty. Drop the garlic cloves in for one minute, and then take them out with a slotted spoon and set them aside. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir it, and cook it until, according to the editors, it is "just past al dente." RESERVE 1/4 CUP OF THE COOKING WATER. Drain the pasta, toss it in a bowl with a little olive oil so it does't stick together, and then spread it out on a baking sheet to cool for at least thirty minutes.
2. Throw the garlic cloves into a running processor, and check to be sure you have no big clumps of garlic left. Add the basil, spinach, pine nuts, lemon juice, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and pepper to taste. Blend it until it's smooth. Add the Parmesan and mayonnaise and process it until it's well mixed. Pour it into a big serving bowl.
Toss the pasta with the pesto, and add some of the reserved pasta water a little at a time until the sauce perfectly coats the pasta. Add in the tomatoes and any extra pine nuts you would like to.
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