Walnut Basil Lemon Pesto on Pasta

Pasta with Walnut pesto

Pasta with Walnut pesto

Our dear friend Michael Murtha hosted a few friends to his home this weekend wherein he claimed he would prepare just a few appetizer items before we headed out for the evening.  Well to Michael a few appetizer items included baked shrimp in tomato sauce, paper thin prosciutto with buffalo mozzarella AND the most delicious orechiette with pistacio pesto sauce.  I must have had three portions. It was so delicious. I decided to recreate it, but I used walnuts instead and also changed the pasta to mezze penne.  I am writing this from work so I cannot post the photo I took last night, but suffice to say that it was delicious and I must give Michael his props for creating his dish and the inspired dish which resulted.  Enjoy!

Pasta with Walnut Pesto

1 clove of garlic
5 leaves of basil, torn
Salt and Pepper
2 cups of toasted walnuts
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
Somewhere between 1/2 cup and 3/4 cup of “good” olive oil
1/4 cup of light cream
1/2 cup of grated parmesan or pecorino romano
1/2 cup of cooking water from the pasta (more or less)
1 pound of Pasta of your choice (I used Mezze Penne)
More parmeggiano reggiano (or pecorino) and pepper when you serve

Boil the pasta and reserve the 1/2 cup of cooking water.  In food processor place all the ingredients except the oil, cheese and cream.  Process until the walnuts are chopped finely and then drizzle the oil into the feed tube. You don’t want it too oily so once you see the walnuts moving freely in the pesto, it’s fine.  Process for a few seconds to emulsify.  Turn off processor and stir in cream and parmesan cheese.  Toss over the pasta adding some of the reserved cooking water as you see fit to make it as dry or wet as you like.  Reseason with salt and pepper.  Serve immediately passing more cheese around to your guests!  Serves 4-6.

Variation: Add 1/2 cup of crumbled bacon from 3-4 strips of bacon crisped up either in a frying pan or in a hot oven. The saltiness of the bacon works with the sweetness of the walnuts.

Spaghetti sauce

The line from Goodfellas goes like this.  “Did you put in the pork?”   And the response?  “Well, that’s the flava….”  Pork is an essential ingredient in my Sunday sauce.  I say Sunday sauce (or gravy for those of you from Hoboken), because this type of a rich Bolognese type sauce was typically prepared on a Sunday, with the entire clan clustered around the table reaching for the meat, which was always served on the side. 


With various meats forming the base of it, this rich American version of an Italian classic has its roots in Southern Italy. It has as many variations as there are Italian nonnas. I’ve heard of everything from beef oxtails to pork ribs to pepperoni to even chicken wings used to create this oh so comforting food.


I used to fantasize about making this sauce and mistakenly thought that the longer the simmering process, the richer the sauce.  To an extent that is true, because the sauce continues to concentrate as it cooks.  But one need not invest the better part of a Sunday to create what I think is a rich, complex and delicious sauce. I’ve added sausage and meatballs as you can see, but the sauce on its own is simple and   delicious.  Enjoy.





Sunday Spaghetti Sauce


Olive oil

1.5 pounds of pork spare ribs, cut into two to three rib portions

1 medium onion chopped finely

3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

½ cup red wine

3 large cans of tomatoes packed in tomato puree, run through a food mill (I prefer Cento brand–San Marzano tomatoes)

1 cup of water


Preheat oven to 450F.  In a large Dutch oven, place three tablespoons of olive oil and the ribs, turning to coat.  Place in the oven and roast for about 45 minutes until brown.  Take out of the oven and remove the ribs to a separate plate.  Set aside.  After allowing the pan to cool, blot up the liquid in the bottom of the pan with paper towels. 


Place the pan on the stove and add two or three tablespoons of olive oil. Over medium heat, sauté the onions until soft and translucent, add the garlic and turn the heat down to low.  Continue stirring and add the tomato paste, frying the tomato paste for a minute or so.  Add the red wine and simmer for two to three minutes to burn off the alcohol. 


Add the tomato puree and the water, season with salt and pepper and return the ribs to the pot.  Simmer over low heat until the ribs are falling off the bone, about two hours.  Except for the occasional stir, the pot, over LOW heat, can remain unattended. 


Remove the pork ribs from the pot and allow to cool.  Shred the pork meat and measure out 1 ½ cups.  Return the pork meat to the pot, and simmer for 5 minutes.  Turn off heat.  Serve over pasta of your choice with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

A big mess

The meaning of the word Pastichio, in Italian, is a big mess. Actually the word itself means, a big mess. Never mind that the word, as it relates to food, does not exist in Italy, and was probably misappropriated by the Greeks during some occupation, war or crusade.  This casserole, having made an appearance on the menu of every Greek diner nationwide, is a cannibalized version of what I would like to think is the original. As usual, recipes that come before me get tweaked, and this one was no exception. 

The dish usually makes its appearance as a beef bolognese imposter on ziti noodles topped by a thick, cloying custard known as bechamel sauce (from the French, of course).  As it now stands, and as it stood on countless buffets at family gatherings, it was well, just not good.  It needed massive improvement.  I was up to the challenge.

First off, lamb instead of ground beef.  The “stew” portion of the dish had to include lamb cubes which were stewed for hours in a rich ragu. The stewing process would render the lamb cubes into strands of shredded lusciousness.

The resultant “stew” was infused with the flavors of the shredded lamb and the added mirepoix that dominates so many French preparations. A few more changes…..allspice instead of cinnamon and a splash of balsamic to compliment the red wine and tomato puree.  This was no ordinary sauce, and after a degreasing (post chill in the fridge), it was indeed a gorgeous, silken lamb ragout.  And when that ragout coated the one pound of penne with along with one cup of Gruyere cheese the results were, well, delicious. On it’s own, I could have devoured the entire pound of pasta.

Deciding to turn the pasta into its intended result, I poured the pasta into a casserole dish and topped it with a thinner layer of bechamel sauce… to which I added one cup of Parmiggiano Reggiano.  Oh the smells coming from the oven as it baked!  The resulting mess is exactly what I set out to accomplish.  A mess it might be but a sublime one at that.  The photo and recipe will appear on Sunday because this mess is going to my mom’s for Greek Easter.  Christos Anesti!