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Milk Street Tuesday Night Italian (Ep 313)

Pesto alla Genovese

Start to finish: 30 minutes | Makes about 1 cup

Good-quality cheese is essential for rich, full-flavored pesto. Seek out true Italian Parmesan, as well as pecorino Sardo, a sheep's milk cheese from Sardinia. If you can't find pecorino Sardo, don't use pecorino romano, which is too strong; instead, opt for Manchego, a Spanish sheep's milk cheese. Roughly chopping the basil by hand before adding it to the food processor minimizes the mechanical action needed to break down the leaves so the pesto won't become too smooth. To store pesto, press a piece of plastic wrap against its surface and refrigerate up to 3 days. Don't toast the pine nuts. In Italy, the pine nuts for pesto are used raw. Don't be tempted to add all the ingredients at once to the food processor. Adding them in stages ensures the pesto has the correct consistency and texture, and that it won't end up thin and watery, the result of overprocessing.


  • 1 3⁄4 ounces Parmesan cheese (without rind), chopped into rough 1-inch pieces
  • 1 ounce pecorino Sardo cheese (without rind), chopped into rough 1-inch pieces
  • 1⁄4 cup pine nuts
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
  • Kosher salt
  • 1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 1⁄2 ounces (about 5 cups lightly packed) fresh basil leaves

INSTRUCTIONS In a food processor, process both cheeses until broken into rough marble- sized pieces, about 10 seconds, then pulse until they have the texture of coarse sand, 5 to 10 pulses, scraping the bowl as needed. Transfer to a small bowl. In the food processor, combine the pine nuts, garlic and 3⁄4 teaspoon salt. Process until a smooth, peanut butter–like paste forms, about 1 minute, scraping the bowl as needed. Add the cheeses and about 1⁄2 of the oil and process until mostly smooth, 10 to 20 seconds, scraping the bowl as needed; the mixture should hold together when pressed against the bowl with a rubber spatula. Using a chef's knife, roughly chop the basil, then add to the food processor. Pulse about 10 times, scraping the bowl several times, until the basil is finely chopped and well combined with the cheese mixture. Add the remaining oil and pulse just until incorporated, about 2 pulses. The pesto should be thick, creamy and spreadable.

Campanelle Pasta with Sweet Corn, Tomatoes and Basil

Start to finish: 30 minute | Servings: 4

The ingredients in this summery pasta dish are few, so fresh corn and ripe tomatoes are key. To create a creamy sauce without cream, we grate the corn kernels from the cobs. To reinforce the corn flavor, we boil the cobs in the water that is later used to cook the pasta. Using a minimal amount of water—just 21⁄2 quarts—means the flavors and starches are concentrated in the liquid, and we put some of this liquid to good use in the sauce. Yellow corn gave the dish a golden hue, but white corn worked, too. Whichever you use, make sure to remove as much as the silk as possible before grating. Short, sauce-catching pasta shapes are best here— if you can’t find campanelle (a frilly, trumpet- like shape), look for penne rigate, fusilli or farfalle. Don't fear the habañero chili in this dish. It does add a little heat (seeding the chili removes much of its burn), but it's here mostly because its fruity notes are a nice complement the corn, tomatoes and basil.


  • 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 4 ears corn, husked
  • 4 tablespoons (1⁄2 stick) salted butter, cut into 4 pieces, divided
  • 2 medium shallots, minced
  • 1 habanero chili, stemmed, seeded and minced
  • 12 ounces campanelle or other short pasta
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil

INSTRUCTIONS In a small bowl, stir together the tomatoes and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt; set aside. Set a box grater in a large bowl or pie plate. Using the grater's large holes, grate the corn down to the cobs; reserve the cobs. In a large pot, bring 21⁄2 quarts water to a boil. Add the corn cobs and 1 tablespoon salt, reduce to medium and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Using tongs, remove and discard the cobs, then remove the pot from the heat. In a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add the grated corn, shallots, chili and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring, until the shallots have softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in 11⁄2 cups of the cooking water. Cook over medium-low, uncovered and stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened (a spatula should leave a brief trail when drawn through the mixture), 10 to 15 minutes. Meanwhile, return the remaining corn-infused water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. Add the pasta to the skillet and cook over medium, stirring constantly, until the pasta is coated and the sauce is creamy, about 2 minutes; if needed, add the reserved cooking water 2 tablespoons at a time to reach proper consistency. Off heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, the tomatoes with their juices and the basil, then toss until the butter has melted. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

Pasta with Pistachios, Tomatoes and Mint

Start to finish: 20 minutes | Servings: 4

Sicily is known for its pistachios, so it’s no surprise that the colorful, subtly sweet nuts feature heavily in the region's desserts and savory dishes. This recipe is our take on a pistachio- and tomato-dressed pasta that we tasted in Siracusa. With lemon zest and mint as accent ingredients, the flavors are fresh and bright. Just about any variety of pasta worked well, but we particularly liked long strands, such as linguine and spaghetti. Don't use raw pistachios; opt for roasted, as they don't require toasting before chopping. Either salted or unsalted worked well.


  • 12 ounces pasta (see note)
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1⁄2 cup shelled roasted pistachios, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh mint
  • Grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese, to serve

INSTRUCTIONS In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Add the pasta and 2 tablespoons salt, then cook, stirring occasionally, until just shy of al dente. Reserve about 2 cups of the cooking water, then drain the pasta. In a 12-inch skillet over medium, combine the oil and tomatoes. Cook, stirring only once or twice, until the tomatoes have softened and the oil has taken on a reddish hue, 4 to 6 minutes. Stir in half the pistachios, 11⁄2 cups of the reserved cooking water, 1⁄2 teaspoon salt and 1⁄4 teaspoon pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is slightly reduced and the tomatoes are completely softened, about 2 minutes. Add the pasta and lemon zest, then cook, stirring frequently, until the pasta is al dente and has absorbed most of the liquid but is still quite saucy, 2 to 4 minutes. Off heat, stir in the mint, then taste and season with salt and pepper. If the pasta is dry, add more cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Transfer to a serving bowl, then sprinkle with the remaining pistachios and drizzle with additional oil. Serve with cheese.