Trenette al Pesto is a very simple pasta with green beans and potatoes. The pasta is then tossed in a pesto sauce made with basil and toasted pine nuts. Delicious!
This traditional Ligurian dish is the ultimate in rustic cheesy simplicity and freshness. You can enjoy it any night of the week as a main course or as a delicious side dish. It pairs wonderfully with Nonna’s Chicken Cutlets or my Lemon and Rosemary Roasted Chicken.
The simple goodness of the fresh basil pesto sauce is a welcome change to the tomato or cream based sauces that we are so accustomed to. Having this easy recipe in your repertoire will make it effortless to change up your dinner routine and plan delicious meals in no time. If you are really short on time you can use store bought pesto, but I highly recommend making your own. It only takes a couple of minutes and it is so worth it.
If you have kids, they will be familiar with Trenette al pesto from the Disney movie Luca. In the movie a sea monster is introduced to this amazing pasta dish when he comes on land in Liguria. Just tell the kids they are eating Luca’s pasta and you will have no complaints about dinner!
If you like Pesto Genovese, you will also want to try this tomato based Casarecce Pasta with Pesto Trapanese.
What is Trenette al Pesto?
Trenette is a type of pasta that is popular in the Ligurian region of Italy located in the Italian Riviera. It is a long thin flat pasta similar to linguine, but it is a bit thicker and wider. Unfortunately, it is not easily found outside of Italy. But you can use linguine, fettuccini or even spaghetti in it’s place.
Trenette al Pesto is a traditional dish that has been part of Ligurian cuisine since the 1600. It combines Trenette pasta, with green beans potatoes and a pesto sauce to create a hearty flavor pasta dish.
What is Pesto?
Genoa, which is the capital of Liguria is the birthplace of pesto. This amazing sauce, also known as Pesto alla Genovese, is made with fresh basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and a combination of parmesan and pecorino romano cheese. The combination creates a creamy herbal sauce that can be used on pasta, as a spread or dip for bread, or an accompaniment for meats and vegetables.
The word pesto means to crush or pound in Italian. Originally the basil, garlic and nuts were ground into a paste with a mortar and pestle. Then the olive oil was drizzled in and it was finished with the addition of the cheese. Today we can make this pasta sauce in minutes with the aid of a food processor.
Ingredients you need and notes
- Basil leaves: You need to use fresh basil leaves, stems removed, for this sauce and you will need a lot of them.
- Pine nuts: Toasted pine nuts are traditionally used in pesto, if you can’t find them or don’t like them, you can substitute walnuts.
- Garlic: You will want fresh garlic. The sauce is not cooked and the flavor of the garlic really comes out so it is important that it be fresh.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil: To create a creamy pesto sauce, I suggest using good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Parmesan and Pecorino Romano cheeses: You will need finely grated not shredded cheese. It is important to use real parmesan and pecorino romano cheese and not the processed version from the grocery store shelf.
- Lemon juice: Lemon is not always used in making Pesto alla Genovese, but I love it and think it really brightens the sauce.
- Trenette Pasta: This is the traditional pasta used for this recipe, but a good substitute would be linguine, which frankly is easier to find in our local grocery store.
- Green beans: Use fresh or frozen green beans that have been cut to about 1″ pieces.
- Potato: The potato should be peeled and cut into small cubes. You can use any type of potato you like but a waxier potato will hold it’s shape better. I like the starchier potatoes because they add some creaminess to the sauce as they break down a bit.
How to make Trenette al Pesto
To make the pesto
- Add the basil leaves, garlic, toasted pine nuts, lemon juice and a pinch of salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a paste forms.
- With the food processor running, slowly drizzle the olive oil into the mixture in a steady stream.
- Add the parmesan/romano cheeses to the food processor and pulse several times to mix it in or transfer the pesto to a medium bowl and stir the cheese in by hand.
To make the Pasta
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook for a minute or two, then add the pasta and cook for about 5 minutes, before adding in the green beans. Cook until the pasta is al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta and vegetables.
- Toss the pasta and vegetables with the pesto in a large serving bowl. Add some of the reserved pasta water if the sauce is too thick. Pass additional grated cheese and black pepper to add as desired.
- Allow the potatoes to cook for a minute or two before adding the pasta so that they are done at about the same time.
- Add the green beans near the end of the cooking time for the pasta so they don’t over cook and become too soft.
- If you are using haricots verts or thin green beans, add them to the pasta water just before the end of the cooking time as they will cook faster then regular green beans.
Variations to traditional Trenette al Pesto
If you can’t find Trenette pasta you can substitute other long pasta shapes such as linguine or fettuccini, but shorter pastas work well too. Penne, spirals, campanelle or even tortellini would be be delicious and fun alternatives.
This dish also lends itself to a little spice. Simply adding red pepper flakes to the pesto or sprinkling on top of the pasta is a great way to add some heat.
If you want to try some different herbs in the pesto in place of basil, you could use parsley or mint. Other good options would be spinach or arugula.
If you aren’t a fan of pine nuts you can use walnuts, almonds or pistachios instead. I recommend toasting any of these nuts before adding them to your pesto.
Trenette is the plural version of the word “trena” in Italian, which means string.
Ideally pasta should be cooked until it is al dente, which means that it is toothy. The reason for this is that the pasta will continue to cook when it is removed from the boiling water and tossed with it’s sauce. Cooking it to this point will ensure that it is not mushy when served. But to know if the pasta is fully cooked you can check a piece of pasta by cutting in in half. The center of the pasta should be uniform in color and there should not be a white ring in the middle. You can also taste it. It should be tender but not soft.
According to Barilla, adding oil to the pasta water will not stop it from sticking together. The oil will only make it difficult for your sauce to stick to the pasta.
I love to get your feedback so if you tried this Trenette al Pesto or any other recipes on this website, please leave me a comment below. I hope you enjoy our recipes and look forward to hearing from you!
Trenette al Pesto
- 2 cups Basil Leaves
- 2 tbsp Pine Nuts toasted
- 3 cloves Garlic
- 2 tbsp Lemon Juice
- ⅔ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- ¼ cup Parmesan Cheese grated
- ¼ cup Pecorino Romano Cheese grated
- 1 lb. Trenette Pasta or other long pasta such as Linguine
- 1 Potato peeled and cut into cubes
- 2 cups Green Beans cut into 1" pieces
- Black Pepper for serving, optional
- Set a large pot of water to boil.
- Combine the basil, pine nuts, garlic and lemon juice in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until a paste forms. Drizzle the olive oil in a steady stream while the food processor is continuously running.
- Add the cheese to the food processor and pulse serval times, just until it is mixed in to the pesto. Set it aside.
- Add the potatoes to the water and salt generously. Cook for 2 minutes.
- Add the pasta and cook for about 5 more minutes stir often so that it does not stick. Then add the green beans and cook just until the pasta is al dente. Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the pasta and vegetables.
- Toss the pasta with the pesto in a large serving bowl. If the sauce is too thick add a little bit of the pasta water to loosen it. Serve the pasta with additional cheese and black pepper.