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Trofie al pesto, with drama and a departure

I may be a crybaby, complete with a mortal fear of needles and a dread of loud noises, but I’m nobody’s drama queen. I like to think of myself as remarkably rational, finely calibrated to operate at a nice, even keel. That’s not to say, though, that I don’t like to spice things up every now and then with, say, a little spontaneous weepiness on public transportation, or maybe a good bout of psychosomatic something. For instance, after my graduation from college, I spent the entire three-day drive from San Francisco to Oklahoma City propped stiffly in the front seat, wracked with heartburn, able to think of nothing but the glorious life I was leaving behind and of the certain doom that lurked in the land of my birth, that place of horrifying humidity and 3.2%-alcohol beer. Obviously, I’d developed some rare and deadly new form of acid-reflux disease. I was dying; there was no other possible answer. You can imagine my delight, then, when I found that my heartburn, along with my anxiety, quickly dissolved into a glass of wine and disappeared into the blessedly powerful air-conditioning vents of my childhood bedroom.

So given my uneasy relationship with drama, I wasn’t entirely surprised to notice that, in the hours after Brandon boarded a plane to return to New York after a miraculous five-week West Coast visit, a strange lump formed in my throat. This was no mere soreness; it was physically hard to swallow. How unoriginal of me, I thought, a little disappointed. I could have aimed for a less clichéd psychosomatic ailment, or at least something that wouldn’t hamper my food consumption. What I really needed was a sudden knock from a New Yorker at my door, but short of that, I would settle for another forkful of trofie al pesto, rustic, homemade, pesto-slicked noodles that go down easy, no matter how big the lump in your throat, real or imagined.

The night before, Brandon and I had hovered together over a flour-dusted counter, turning tiny lumps of pasta dough into rough, nubby spirals. It was activity tailor-made for stretching a moment into slow motion, for cold beer in retro Champagne glasses, for saying goodbye to the curly-haired boy standing next to me in his underwear, an improvised outfit for a warm night in a hot apartment. We churned fresh basil into a lush, nutty paste and blanched slender green beans until steamy; then we coaxed the noodles into the boiling pot; and, sitting down at the table, we pulled the plates up under our chins, trapping noodles and beans between the tines of our forks, sighing our way to the bottom of the bowl and through to the other side, where there waited morning, a jet engine, and that strange tightness that settled around my throat.

Never mind the fact that it turned out to be a simple swollen lymph node—a perfectly rational response, you will note, to a dry Seattle summer’s high pollen count. Somewhere between the last bite of trofie and the next ticket to New York, I’m still a certified crybaby.

Handmade Trofie al Pesto
Adapted from Saveur Cooks Authentic Italian*

Trofie, otherwise known as Ligurian gnocchi, might not be the simplest, quickest pasta shape to make—allow plenty of time, preferably with a glass of something alcoholic and a handsome partner—but they certainly are among the loveliest to eat. In all honesty, ours looked nothing like the picture-perfect corkscrews on the pages of the book, but they were beautiful in their own right, delicate, rustic, and with a good, al dente chew.

We tossed them with green beans, which appealingly mimic the pasta’s shape, size, and texture, but skinny asparagus, lightly blanched, would also be delicious. The original recipe also calls for thinly sliced boiled potatoes to be tossed into the finished dish, but for the sake of summery lightness, we left them out. And just for the record, this is the most delicious, well-balanced basil pesto I’ve ever eaten. Until trying this recipe, I’d been a devoted fan of James Beard’s formula, but well, sorry, big guy.

For the pesto:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, tightly packed
2 heaping Tbs pine nuts
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
Coarse salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, tightly packed, plus more for serving

For the trofie:
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra to work with
1 tsp salt

For finishing:
½ lb haricots verts or small green beans, trimmed (we may have actually used closer to ¾ lb—it’s hard to refrain from gluttony when it comes to sweet summer beans)

For the pesto, place the basil leaves in a tall, thick, narrow glass. Using a citrus reamer, muddle the leaves until they are dark green and pasty; the total volume should reduce by about half, and they should have released quite a bit of liquid. Set aside.

Place the pine nuts, garlic, and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade attachment, and blend them to a paste. Add the basil and its juices, drizzle in the oil, and process until smooth. Transfer to a bowl, and stir in the Parmigiano.

For the trofie, sift the flour and salt together into a mound on a clean, dry surface. Use your hand to make a well in the center; then pour in about ¾ cup water. Using a fork, gradually incorporate flour from the inside edge of the well into the water. As you stir, add another ½ cup water. When the dough becomes too stiff to work with the fork, flour your hands, and knead until the dough is soft and no longer sticky. [You may find that you need a bit more flour; we added about 2 Tbs.] Push the dough to one side, clean your work surface and your hands, then flour both again, and knead dough until very smooth, about 2-3 minutes more. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel, and set it aside for half an hour.

Clean and flour your hands and the surface again. Pinch off a pea- to chickpea-sized piece of dough, and roll it between your palms to form a fat matchstick. Place it on the floured surface. With your palm facing down, turn your hand up to a 45-degree angle, so that the edge of the pinky-finger side of your palm is resting on one end of the matchstick. Gently but firmly, roll the matchstick back toward you to form a thin spiral. Repeat to use all the dough. This will take practice and time, but be patient. Don't worry if the trofie are a bit more like worms than like corkscrews: as long as they are all roughly the same thickness and shape, they will be fine. As the trofie are made, transfer them to a lightly floured parchment- or wax paper-lined baking sheet.

Cook the green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat until tender, about 3-5 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and cut them into 2-inch lengths. Transfer them to a large serving bowl.

Cook trofie in the same water over high heat until they float to the surface, 3-4 minutes. Reserve a small cupful of the cooking water, and then drain the trofie into a colander and transfer them to the large bowl with the green beans. Add pesto to taste, and splash on a bit of cooking water to obtain a nice, slippery, lightly sauce-like consistency. Taste for salt, and serve, passing a little bowl of grated Parmigiano.

[Note: You will have leftover pesto, but don’t worry: it keeps well, with a thin film of olive oil over its surface, in an airtight container in the fridge, and it freezes fine too. And for further convenience, note that the pasta dough will keep for a day or two in a plastic baggie in the fridge, should you want to split the recipe and enjoy fresh pasta over two nights.]

Serves 6 as a first course, or 4 as a main course.

*Special thanks to B, of Culinary Fool, for helping me to procure this beauty of a book.


Blogger Nic said...

Molly, you sure know how to make a girl crave carbs. Though I usually reach for the sweet kind instead of pasta, I think that a wonderful moment with a wonderful guy could make me change my mind.

7:17 PM, August 01, 2005  
Blogger Clare Eats said...

Oh so sad! Oh so yummy... ahhh! I think my brain hurts

8:12 PM, August 01, 2005  
Anonymous keiko said...

Oh Molly, this pasta looks irresistible... I'm getting hungry (again)! And I love the new design of your site, how cool!

2:08 AM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger Pille said...

Aah, Molly - this looks amazing! I've been thinking of making the normal/common/traditional gnocchi one of these days, but now might go for your so much more impressive and interesting trofie recipe instead. (Especially as I got some lovely pesto from The Passionate Cook just this morning as part of the blogging-by-mail event).
Reading your post brought a clump into my throat, but it was 'I just got very-very hungry just an hour after having breakfast' kind of clump:)

4:10 AM, August 02, 2005  
Anonymous Rachel said...

I just bought 4 bunches of basil to make fresh pesto but had lost my previously used recipe. I think I will use yours.

5:14 AM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger amylou said...

There is nothing I love more than pasta except maybe a boy in his underwear (briefs please!), so your meal sounds perfect.

I'm afraid I won't master the twirling action you described, but I'm going to give this recipe a go anyway.

Lymph node swelling aside, it sounds like you were a trouper.

6:29 AM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger margrocks said...

bless you, molly and your lumpy throat. and hang in...sounds like he'll be back, and just think how happy you'll be to see him, underwear 'n' all..."absence makes the heart grow fonder" and all that tripe...not sure i believe it, but the phrase certainly brings some comfort at times like this. that, and trofie al pesto.

7:39 AM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger margrocks said...

oh. and i think this calls for a little retail/ebay therapy...ice cream maker, anyone?

7:40 AM, August 02, 2005  
Anonymous gemma said...

What a sweet and vividly written post Molly. Your pasta looks lovely.

8:01 AM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger Michèle said...

Hi Molly, I feel for you! I have also been known to be a spontaneous weeper. Your pasta making sounds truly romantic and I will keep my fingers crossed that you and Brandon will be together again very soon.. In the meantime, chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolate. And some gin and tonic therapy helps to dry the tears too.

12:04 PM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger farmgirl said...

Oh yum! That looks so incredibly delicious. Definitely must try your new favorite pesto recipe. Wonderful writing. Lovely photos. And I agree with Michele--lots and lots of chocolate therapy. I actually planned to write a "Chocolate Cake Emergency" post today, and I would have sent you straight over there, but I met with a tiny setback. Fortunately even chocolate disasters are edible (especially if it is an emergency)! : )

3:09 PM, August 02, 2005  
Blogger Christopher Trottier said...

Food is the new sex.

11:37 PM, August 02, 2005  
Anonymous christina said...

such poetry and the pasta looks incredible, too.

7:39 AM, August 03, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

I adore fresh pasta. I remember I made it twice. The first time for my mother and mother in law for mother's day. It is so divine. The stuff in the stores should not even be called pasta. Another time I made ravioli for my husband. All the hard work is so worth it.

9:25 AM, August 03, 2005  
Anonymous maria said...

hi molly... i'm so behind on reading. this summer stinks, it has been way too busy. just wanted to drop a line to say hi and i love your new header!! looks smashing. miss the pic of you though. :)
hope we can e-chat soon.
take care!! mav

12:22 PM, August 03, 2005  
Blogger Lady Lavender of the Kitchen said...

How sad! why five weeks only? Does he live out there? Pasta looks delicious btw.

3:17 PM, August 03, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Nic, I'd ordinarily be with you in the sweets section of the carbs category, but when it comes to fresh pasta, I take a leap over to the savory side--if only for an evening, of course.

Clare Eats, don't worry; my brain hurts too.

Keiko, I trust you found something to munch on. Maybe I should offer free snacks?

Pille, I hope you put that pesto to good use, no matter what type of gnocchi you settled on. I've been looking into a lot of gnocchi recipes myself lately, and very few of them traditional potato. I'm intrigued by the idea of a winter squash gnocchi this fall. Mmm, a reason to actually look forward to the end of the summer...

Rachel, what perfect timing! I hope you found the pesto as wonderful as I did. Brandon and I were taking tastes right off the spoon.

Amy, my dear, one more reason why destiny brought us together: we both prefer men in briefs. I'll be sure to include that detail in the dress code when you, Erik, Brandon, and I someday do dinner together. And as for the pasta, don't sweat the twirling thing. Our pasta looked nothing like the trofie made by a Ligurian grandmother. We were a little frustrated in the beginning, but soon we decided that our rustic "spirals" had infinitely more character than the stuff in the photos. And sure enough, they tasted damn fine too.

Margrocks, thank you for the sweet words of wisdom. I'm not sure if absence makes the heart grow fonder, but it will certainly make it beat faster come September, when I step off that plane in NYC. And as for the ice cream maker, I've got a scoop (oof, no pun intended) from Jimmy (of "9 am Sunday" fame; the master of all things sweet and fatty): his ice cream maker is a cheap one from Target, the kind that looks like a bucket, with a center churning insert that you surround with ice and salt. And he does wonderful homemade (or "homo-made," as Rebecca likes to loudly say) ice cream in it. I'm thinking about a pilgrimage to Target...

Gemma, thank you.

Michele, thank you too. You'll be very happy to know that I've been very good about taking my prescribed chocolate, and I've even forced down a gin and tonic. Doctor's orders. And anyway, Brandon left me with a fridge full of food, so he'd be very unhappy to hear that I let anything go to waste.

Farmgirl, I see that you've posted a photo of your emergency cake, and now I anxiously await the recipe. Don't delay too long, or I'll get over my crybabyness...

Christopher Trottier, yes, I believe you're correct. Very well said.

Christina, thank you.

Foodiechickie, what a nice daughter/daughter-in-law/wife you are. Fresh pasta is definitely hard --or at least time-consuming--work, but if you're like me, by the time you fork up a bite of it, all is forgotten.

Mav, you *have* been busy! I've been following you over at port2port--and come to think of it, I'm kicking myself for not commenting more. I always love your photos and your daily thoughts. The recent photo of your first swim of the summer was so lovely and graceful--I had to return to it a few times, just to soak in it for a bit. Hope your summer slows down soon, or if not, at least squeeze in plenty of swimming...

Lady Lavender, thank you. Brandon does live in NY, sadly, so I consider myself lucky to have been able to hoard him for an entire five weeks...quite a luxury! On the upside, this nasty long-distanceness means that we both get to spend time in two of the country's most vibrant cities. Not bad. For the (condensed) story, click on the link from his name, above.

11:30 PM, August 03, 2005  
Blogger violet said...

i'm familiar with the bicoastalness. very familiar with the sad goodbyes and a boy kissing me as i get on MUNI to go back to sfo on a plane to dc. you're lucky to live there. that city has my heart. or at least a boy that lives there does.

2:35 PM, August 04, 2005  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This was a exquisite posting. I'm sure I'm not the only one with a lump in my throat after reading through it. I think I might have to give this recipe a try...

4:43 PM, August 04, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Violet, SF has my heart too, but sadly, I don't live there. I apologize for the confusion--too many places in one post, it seems! I went to college in the Bay Area and often visit friends and family there, but I live in Seattle--for now, at least. I've got my heart pretty spread around these days...NYC, Seattle, SF, and always a little in Paris. Here's a little toast to both of us making as merry as possible with so much bicoastalness.

Jennifer, thank you. So much.

6:13 PM, August 04, 2005  
Blogger Rose said...

I've been reading your blog for a while now (though I don't think i've posted before) and boy, do you know how to pull a foodie's heartstrings.

You always evoke so much emotion into your thoughts on food, it's really beautiful to see it written out with such elegance.

I hope to find someone with whom I can share my passions with as much as you share yours with Brandon's.

9:53 AM, August 05, 2005  
Blogger margrocks said...

excellent tip on the ice cream maker! $14 @ target.com.

7:18 AM, August 06, 2005  
Anonymous jen said...

Hi Molly,

I've been reading for a few months, and I must say.. your writing sends me further and further into this warm fuzzy foodie stupor. I think I drooled on myself a little. I can't wait to try some of these recipes.

I'm intrigued that you're originally from Oklahoma City! I'm here, born and raised in OKC, and looking forward to a Bay area move in the next 18 months. I want to ask what high school you went to, but I don't want to be too nosy.. the internets are public, after all. :)

Keep up the good stuff, lady.

3:30 PM, August 06, 2005  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

You've nailed me Molly by the time the fork is in my mouth any memory of hard work is out the window.

12:49 PM, August 08, 2005  
Blogger Molly said...

Thank you, Rose--you certainly know how to pull my heartstrings. Brandon is a rare find--a handsome man who spends entire days researching the perfect recipe for x? yes, please!--and at this point, I'm just saying lots and lots of thank yous. Thank you for helping me remember to say even more.

And margrocks, great news! We both have Jimmy to thank.

Jen, it's a pleasure to meet a fellow Okie, if you'll forgive me for using the term. [Oof!] Thanks for stopping by, and of course, for taking the time to comment! To answer your question--don't worry, not too nosy--I went to Casady. It's a fact I'm pretty neutral on. Great education, but perhaps not the best social setting for me. [Then again, I'm not sure that high school is a good social setting for anyone!] Before going there, I went to Westminster for preschool through 8th grade. I think of myself much more as a Westminster kid than a Casady teen.

And foodiechickie, I had a feeling...

11:30 PM, August 08, 2005  
Blogger Pomme said...

Thank you, I was searching for instructions for trofie, and I found a beautiful piece of writing as well as a recipe both lyrical and practical; I love your style and wish I found your blog earlier.

2:55 AM, May 24, 2010  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have to use a mortaio to make a real pesto alla genovese, 2/3 parmigiano reggiano, 1/3 pecorino sardo!however it's rather italian!!

3:59 PM, February 18, 2011  

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