An excerpt from the latest Simon Hopkinson book "Second Helpings of Roast Chicken" published by Hyperion.

linguine.jpgNot only do I find the word linguine the most attractive to pronouce: lingweeeeeeneh – I also reckon its shape is one of the most appealing of all pastas when wrapped around the tongue. Curiously, linguine is a rare pasta within the indexes of most of the reputable Italian cookbooks I have, but when I finally found a brief description, the gist of it seemed to suggest flattened spaghetti. And, in fact, that is exactly what it is: not as wide as fettuccine or tagliatelle, but a bit thicker than trenette. And trenette is often understood to be the most favored pasta for dressing with pesto.

It was The Times restaurant critic Jonathan Meades, I recall, who first alerted me to the traditional Genoese inclusion of potatoes within a dish of pasta dressed with pesto.  Initially, this rocks the boat of reason: starch and yet more starch, all within the same plate of food, can hardly be seen as a thoughtful notion. As you might have already guessed, it is a quirky marriage that is most sublime.

This muted mingle of manufactured bland strands of paste with nuggets of earthy tuber suddenly makes me realize quite why we like a chip butty so much, or a forkful of roast potato, Yorkshire pudding and gravy. And there is yet another version in this vein where borlotti – or other fagioli – take the place of the potato amongst the tangle of pasta which sounds equally delicious to me, I must say. 

secondhelpings2.jpgI remain convinced that one deeply sad day very soon we will come across this assembly stacked, as ateetering tower: the potato slices, swirls of ribbon pasta sandwiching them together, a smear of pesto sauce as adhesive and with this absurdly composed nonsense finally topped off with a whimsical lid that is the "Parmesan crisp," neatly trimmed to fit. Remember, you first read about it here.

Furthermore, I am absolutely sick and tired of this incessant desire to continually "garnish" each and every dish with this cretinous coil of twiddled pasta turrets. My, how I loathe them. And then there is this other growing fashion: that witty little raviolo pillow, all plumped up with some nonsense – often wildly inappropriate – and slithering around a huge white soup plate like some demented dodgem car.

The very latest impertinence, however, and, be assured, soon to overtake the previous two, is the use of a spoonful of risotto to titivate and assembly. Most often, it is seen as a soggy disc lurking underneath a mountain of other ingredients, the rice overcooked to pudding consistency so that it "molds" to shape. None of these traditional Italian staples deserve such ignorant treatment, for it is in their very nature to be presented as stars in their own right, which makes them shine so brightly. So, for heaven's sake, just leave them be.


Linguine with Pesto and New Potatoes

As I find it quite impossible not to include a few sprigs of mint when boiling new potatoes, you will simply have to excuse me this particular English habit on this occasion or, of course, choose to leave it out.  However, I do find that basil and mint have a true affinity with each other; so much so, that I would seldom consider making the Italian lotion known as salsa verde without including both basil and mint – as well as, of course, copious amounts of parsley too. Hey, it's entirely up to you. After all, it is only a hint of mint we are talking about here.

Serves 2

For the Pesto:

the leaves from a small bunch of basil
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 tablespoon pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
salt and pepper
2½ – 5 tablespoons olive oil 1/2 tablespoon freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese

For the Linguine:

3½ oz. small new potatoes, scraped clean
2-3 sprigs of fresh mint
5 oz. good-quality dried linguine
extra grated Parmesan

First make the pesto. Using a mortar or food processor, pound or process to a paste the basil, garlic and pine nuts, together with a little salt and pepper. Then add enough of the olive oil in a thin stream to produce a loose-textured puree. Finally, quickly mix in the cheese. Set aside.

Cook the new potatoes with the mint in a small pan of boiling salted water until tender and leave them in their water. Cook the linguine in another pan of boiling salted water until tender. Suspend a colander over a large serving bowl and drain the linguine. Lift out the colander and allow the pasta to drain. Tip the draining water out of the bowl and wipe dry. (This draining process allows the serving bowl to be heated through for serving.)

Add 4-5 tablespoons of the potato-cooking water to the pesto to loosen it, drain off the rest of it, and slice the potatoes in half lengthways. Toss all three ingredients together in the warmed bowl and hand extra Parmesan at table.



From Second Helpings of Roast Chicken by Simon Hopkinson. Copyright (c) 2008 Simon Hopkinson. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.