A Ligurian dish that the Genoese insist must be made with plain dried pasta, never fresh, and certainly without eggs. Why they insist on this escapes me, but over the years I’ve noticed that Italians are quite good at pasta so I rarely ignore their advice, even if it seems pointless. The dish must also be made with home-made pesto. The inclusion of potatoes seems strange to non-Italians – starch upon starch, an anathema to many diets – but it works, the slices of potato absorbing any excess olive oil rendered out by the action of the spaghetti’s heat on the pesto. They absorb the oil, and are themselves transformed. It all makes perfect sense when you get it in your mouth.
This is a good dish to show the basic steps of cooking pasta and to exemplify the gusto and confidence needed to succeed: a series of simple steps executed correctly in sequence and at speed.
Prepare the pesto, potatoes and beans. These can be done in advance; the veg up to 1 day before, the pesto almost any time. Boil the potatoes in their skins in lightly salted water until tender, then drain well and slice thinly. Boil the beans in heavily salted, violently boiling water for 3 minutes, then drain, refresh in cold water and drain again.
Put 5 litres water on to boil and salt it lightly. Drop the pasta into the water and stir. Cook for 8 minutes then test.
Take your serving bowl and warm it up by ladling into it a litre of the pasta cooking water. Add the beans and potatoes to this water to heat through. Drain the veg, return to the serving bowl and add the pesto. Put a colander in the sink.
When the pasta is al dente, drain and reserve a small jug of the cooking water. Working quickly and carefully, remove the pan from the stove but leave the heat on. Drain the pasta in the colander, then return to the hot pan still dripping. Return the pan to the heat for 30 seconds to get very hot. Tip the pesto, bean and potato mix on to the spaghetti and toss. It will almost certainly be a little dry so add some of the reserved water and toss. Switch off the heat under the pan. Taste to check seasoning and adjust. One final toss and tip into the serving dish and out to your guests.
© 1996 Alastair Little. All rights reserved.