Pasta with Pesto, Parmesan, Pecorino and Pistachios

This pleasantly alliterative recipe is my take on a dish which I ate at Valvona & Crolla, which was reviewed last week. It is laughably simple. Like pesto itself, you can play about with the ingredients, but if you omit any, you'd have to rename the dish, obviously. You can use any pasta you like, but something longer such as spaghetti or linguine work well. Fresh home made tagliatelle would be excellent too, if you can be bothered getting your pasta maker down from that dusty shelf. In Italy the pasta is usually added to the sauce, not vice versa. Here, just assemble it in a separate frying pan. Reserving a couple of spoons of the cooking water to add to the butter and cheese will create an emulsion so that everything sticks to the pasta.

Making pesto is an inexact science. I don't think I've ever weighed out basil in my life, or measured the amount of salt. Taste as you go.

Pesto is originally from Liguria, where the basil is highly prized. In the early days they would, I think, have used pecorino cheese. Any recipes I can find in Italian books call for both. Don't worry if you can't find pecorino: parmesan on its own will suffice.

Other variations are possible. In place of the basil you can use wild garlic, in which case omit the garlic from the recipe, or use only a tiny amount. I've also seen recipes using parsley or spinach. Some people will use walnuts instead of pinenuts.

In olden times, one would use a mortar and pestle. If you have a mini blender, it's so much easier, though purists will say that the metal blade impacts on the basil. With reference to the basil, I fill to the brim a mug which has a capacity of 300ml. (I measured it this very morning to try to assist.) Check the basil. Discard any discoloured leaves, but there is no need to remove the stalks.


Pasta of your choice; Allow 80 - 120g per person, depending on (a) whether it is intended as  starter or main dish, and (b) appetite; quantity of pesto; dessertspoonful of unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped (optional); butter.


For the pesto (this is enough for 4- 6 portions, possibly more)

1 mug of fresh basil leaves (see above); 2 cloves of garlic; 55g pinenuts; 55g freshly grated Parmesan OR equal quantities of Parmesan and pecorino; 150ml extra virgin olive oil (use your good stuff); salt.

Blitz the basil and garlic together. Then add the nuts, cheese, oil, and a little salt. (bearing in mind that the cheese is quite salty.  Blitz until smooth. Taste You will probably need more salt.

Pesto will keep in the fridge for a while. Store in a sealed jar with a little film of oil on top.


Cook the pasta in salted water, until al dente. Drain, reserving a little of the cooking water. In a frying pan, melt a large knob of butter, and add the pasta, a portion or two at a time. Add a few spoons of pesto and a couple of spoons of cooking water. Mix well then stir in the pistachio nut pieces, if using.


  1. Michael Greenlaw on 5th May 2023 at 7:47 pm

    It seems like you’re going vegetarian these days Tom, what with your visit to DB’s place reviewed earlier. This sounds like a very tasty vegetarian dish.

    • Tom Johnston on 5th May 2023 at 7:58 pm

      For years, I wondered how anyone could be vegetarian, not in the sense of how can you give up meat, but, wouldn’t that be boring. Then I went to India, and was blown away by the veggie food. When I’m planning a meal, it just depends on what comes to mind. I cook a lot of vegetarian meals, but I could ever follow a vegan diet.

      I do remember Tam Cowan of The Daily Record and Of The Ball fame saying that he thought he might have made a convert when a punter discovered that chips were vegan.

Leave a Comment