Pennette With Spicy Sicilian Pesto

We found this recipe browsing through some other food blogs. One of our favorite blogs is Serious Eats, where they have a section called Cook The Book.  This is where they help promote cook books by showing recipes from a newly released cook book.

This recipe comes from Mario Batali's latest cook book, Molto Batali.  Mario Batali is one of the most recognized and respected chefs working in America today. Mario has 11 restaurants located in New York City alone with others located in Las Vegas, California and even Singapore. One of his newest ventures is the gourmet market Eataly.  Eataly is the largest artisnal Italian food and wine marketplace in New York City.

We really enjoy pesto sauce, it is easy to make and has refreshing flavor thanks to the herbs.  The only thing is often times pesto sauces all tend to be basically the same. When we saw that it was a Spicy Pesto Sauce we knew instantly we were going to make it. We love spice and heat, but one other thing that caught our eye is that Batali used Almonds in the recipe.  Traditionally pesto sauce is made with pine nuts, so we were very interested to see how the Almonds would work.



Yield: 8 to 10 as a first course, 6 as a main, active time 15 minutes, total time 15 minutes

  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed, washed and spun dry
  • ½ cup mint leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ cup sliced blanched almonds
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus ¼ cup
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Siciliano plus ¼ cup (Pecorino Ramano)


  1. Bring 8 quarts water to boil in a large spaghetti pot and add 2 tablespoons salt.
  2. Place the basil, mint, garlic, Serrano chilis, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds and almonds in a food processor and pulse 3 times to start the chopping process.
  3. Add the ½ cup oil and pulse 4 or 5 times to create a thick paste, (not a thin oily sauce). Add cheese and pulse once to mix in, season with salt if it needs it and remove to a container with a lid. 
  4. Carefully pour ¼ cup more olive oil over to create hermetic “lid”, cover with seal tight lid and refrigerate. This pesto will hold in the fridge like this for 2 weeks. Makes 1½ cups.
  5. Place 1 cup of the pesto in a large warm salad bowl.
  6. Drop the pennette into the boiling water and cook to one minute less than the package instructions. Just before it is done, carefully ladle ¼ cup of the cooking water into the bowl with the pesto. 
  7. Drain the pasta in a colander and dump into the bowl with the pesto and the water. Toss gently like a salad about 30 seconds until nicely coated and serve with a scant dusting of the cheese over each portion.


Our first impressions of this dish was "woah that's spicy".  It was not an over powering heat, but it was certainly there. If you do not enjoy heat in your dishes we would suggest steering clear of this recipe, or just omit the peppers.

Since we do like heat we were very happy with this dish. Adding the cooking water to the pesto before mixing it with the pasta really helped to enhance the dish. It added a small amount of liquid to the pesto which helped the sauce mix together with the pasta. The fresh herbs really come through in this dish, especially the mint. We have never used mint in a pesto sauce before but it worked nicely.  The almonds added texture and crunch and paired well with the freshly grated cheese.

Another key to this dish is making sure your pasta is cooked al dente. The term "al dente" comes from Italian and means "to the tooth" or "to the bite", referring to the need to chew the pasta due to its firmness. Pasta will continue to cook even after you remove it from the stove. Taking it off of the stove early ensures that your pasta will not end up over cooked.  It is also important to season your water with salt. It helps give the pasta added flavor.

We will be making this dish again for sure. It is a Should Eat and offers a perfect base meal for you to make your own additions such as grilled chicken or sweet Italian sausage.