Were you a school lunch or a packed lunch kid? I was mostly a lunch-buyer growing up — I had my fair share of Lunchables on field trips and PB&Js in those fold-top plastic Ziplocs-without-Ziplocs, but my school lunch memories are dominated by plastic trays sliding along metal rungs, boat-shaped French bread pizzas, clammy and not quite melted in the center; paper cartons of chocolate milk and foil-capped orange sherbet; hard-shell tacos that I’d gleefully crush into a makeshift taco salad.
Probably because it was the one I did less, bringing lunch always seemed kind of optimal to me. Like if you got hungry before lunch and felt like sneaking food in your morning classes, you totally could — tiptoeing your hand into the maw of your unzipped backpack when the teacher wasn’t looking and shoving grapes, or baby carrots, or a hunk of sandwich into your mouth. In our circle there were two schools of thought — you could duck under your desk (oh where did I put my homework?!), chew furiously and swallow as fast as possible before you got caught. Or you could pop back up and opt for the hide-in-plain-sight, hand-over-mouth, deep-in-thought gaze as you tried to chew behind your palm. Both dubiously successful. Both totally worth the risk. High school was so exciting.
Anyway, back then I had a friend who, in addition to being a food-sneaking ninja, always seemed to have the really cool packed lunch, the kind that I imagine would have fit in with Amanda’s kids’ lunches before their time. I’m sure my intrigue was as much to do with my limited lunch universe of Wonder Bread and pretzel sticks as with her mother’s kitchen prowess, but I thought her mom was a lunch-packing wizard. I still remember one day — in class before lunch, obviously — when my friend pulled out a chicken sandwich and peered into it to reveal a smear of something I’d never seen before, herby and green and faintly pungent. It’s pesto, she told me when I asked, looking mildly surprised that I didn’t know. You know, like, basil and olive oil and Parmesan. Like what? I was so intrigued.
Black walnut scoop and spoon: Polder’s Old World Market; mortar and pestle: Amazon (via Adrianna at A Cozy Kitchen); olive oil: Lucini Italia; ceramics: Speck & Stone, The Fortynine Studio, Akiko Graham via The-Commons.
As it turns out, a little less than ten years (what) later, my sage high school friend is now a bridesmaid (!!) and the pesto she introduced to me is now one of my favorite sauces. The standard basil pesto has a balanced beauty that’s pretty impossible to beat, pungent garlic and brightly peppery basil tempered with earthy, savory Parmesan and crushed pine nuts, but with spring more or less here, I threw in a few handfuls of my favorite spring herbs to add a little extra liveliness (and used almonds, poor guys). Of course, you can use all basil (or any other herb, really) and pine nuts instead of almonds if you prefer. Also, I broke in a new mortar and pestle (thank you Adrianna for the amazing rec!) to make this and loved the difference in flavor by grinding it by hand as opposed to a food processor. I totally recommend trying it that way if you’re up for it — it’s a treat. I followed Valentina’s excellent mortar and pestle method for pesto here.
Finally, I paired the sauce with our go-to chicken sausage and my favorite homemade pasta, Kathryn’s perfect orecchiette. It’s the first homemade pasta I ever made, way back sometime in 2013, and it’s by far the most enjoyable of the handmade pastas I’ve tried, especially since I don’t have a machine. No sweating or cursing or tricep workouts necessary, just a sunny worktable, a blunt knife and some time. Like Kathryn says, there’s something magical about it — that all you need is flour, water (not even eggs!) and a little bit of kneading to make actual, real pasta you can eat, silky but toothsome, with just the right amount of chew. (Plus, the little ears are kind of the cutest.)
Hope you’re having a lovely Wednesday!
Orecchiette recipe via Kathryn at London Bakes.
- for the orecchiette:
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup warm water
- for the pesto:
- 2 cups soft herbs of your choice -- I used 1 cup basil, 3/4 cup cilantro, and 1/4 cup mint
- 1/4 cup almonds, toasted (or pine nuts or walnuts)
- 2 tbsp grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper
- to serve:
- 1/2 cup sliced sausage of your choice (I used this sweet apple chicken sausage)
- 1-2 tsp oil for panfrying
- To make the orecchiette: Stir together the dry ingredients on a clean work surface (or in a large bowl). Make a well in the middle and pour in half the water. Use your fingers to bring everything together into a dough, adding the remaining water bit by bit.
- Knead for five minutes until the dough is elastic. Place in an airtight container, Ziploc bag or under a damp towel and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, make the pesto. To make it in a food processor, simply combine all the ingredients except for the olive oil and process until it forms a paste. Add the olive oil little by little until it reaches your desired consistency, and season with salt and pepper. To make it with a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic and salt together first, then add the herbs. Once a brilliant green paste forms, add the nuts a few at a time. then alternate with the cheese until both are combined. Finally, thin with the olive oil to your desired consistency, and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as desired. (See this excellent post for more details. Set aside.
- To form the orecchiette, divide the dough into pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll each piece into a long cylinder about half an inch in diameter, keeping the remaining pieces covered. Cut the cylinder into cubes about half an inch long.
- Place the blunt side of a knife at the top of the cube of dough and press down at a slight angle, with the knife angled down away from you. The dough should form an “edge” that curls slightly over the knife. Drag the knife towards you, continuing to apply pressure, until the dough wraps around the back of the knife.
- Unfold the curl and turn it inside out over your thumb to form an ‘ear’ shape. Set aside in a single layer on a baking tray until ready to cook.
- Set aside in a single layer on a baking tray until ready to cook.
- To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. While it’s heating up, slice the sausage and panfry in a skillet with a bit of oil over medium heat until cooked through (if raw) and lightly browned. Remove from heat and set aside. If the sausage rendered grease, drain.
- When the water comes to boil, add the orecchiette and simmer for about 2-3 minutes, or until the pasta is al dente and begins to float slightly. They will not float to the top, but will bob instead of sinking to the bottom. Feel free to taste as you go.
- When the pasta is ready, add it to the skillet with the sausage, along with a ladleful of the pasta water. Add the pesto. Over low heat, stir until pesto evenly coats the pasta. Serve immediately, with extra Parmesan and herbs for garnish. Enjoy!