Mint is the herb of choice here at the Made in Rome. Mint also happens to be one of the staple herbs of Rome itself. On amber afternoons wandering around the Eternal City and during languid Roman dinners at dusk when you’re sitting, eating, and not yet electrified by the night, menta flavors narcotic local dishes like braised artichokes and slow-cooked tripe. Allie and I use a lot of mint. We’re into the wild energy the herb can bring. One of the things we like to supercharge with mint is pesto.
(Side note: the first night Allie and I had dinner together, I ordered tripe alla Romana at a red-check table heavy with cheap house wine on a silent stone street. She and the two friends we were with gave me a hard time for ordering something so out of the American box. But, ah, when I’m hungry I still think of that meal….)
The other day, after I came home with a few boxes of crazy pasta shapes, we made some mint pesto. When making mint pesto, you can’t go 100% mint. The mint flavor would chainsaw through everything. A lot of the time, I’ll go mint-basil. Both herbs come from the same botanical family, basil is at home in pesto, and basil rocks. This time, though, we went with kale. Five cups of kale. That made the leaf-eater and kale-lover I am married to pretty happy.
Oh, and we also roasted a pound of tiny heirloom tomatoes. They brought some fruitiness and acid to the mint pasta, as well as a burst of color, and on top of that each heirloom variety had its own quirky flavor, making for lots of different bites. Where did we find heirloom tomatoes in March? The grocery store! Hey, farmers’ markets are great, but it’s always summer down in the tropics.
Roasted tomatoes are good on almost any kind of pasta. Definitely mint pesto. If you’re looking for a tubular new pasta to add to your arsenal or you’ve got a groovy mint craving like the ones Allie and I get, be sure to use penne rigate or paccheri when the pasta water is hot and you’re deep into the recipe below! -Chris
What you need:
For the Pesto
5 cups kale
1.5 cups mint
1/3 cup almonds
4 cloves garlic
Juice from 1 lemon
Salt and Pepper
3/4 cup olive oil (or, for a lighter pesto, 1/2 cup oil and 1/4 cup vegetable stock)
For the Rest
1 lb tiny tomatoes
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 lb pasta
What to do: Note: You can do much more with pesto than sauce pasta. (You can stir the sauce into eggs, into soups (as they do in Liguria), you can spoon it over steaks, fish like salmon, you can mix it with yogurt for a taco crema….)
1) Put all pesto ingredients but olive oil into a blender. Put in about half of the olive oil. Fire your blender. Slowly add the rest of the olive oil. Let the blades whir until they dice your pesto to whatever rustic chop or smoothness you prefer.
2) Start the pasta water. (Remember to heavily salt that water for best flavor!)
3) Cut the tomatoes in half. Toss them with oil and salt until coated. Put in a baking pan and roast at 400 for 10 minutes.
4) Pour a drink. Wait for your pasta to cook. When it has, add pesto to the pasta off the heat and stir well. Shower with cheese. Eat!