The easiest way to name this dish is to call it pasta with pesto, tomatoes and ham. But that would be misleading. That’s not pesto. That’s a mixture of olive oil, basil, garlic, lime juice, salt, pepper and chili. And that’s not really pesto because pesto — at least, the very traditional recipe — has nuts, cheese, lemon juice and no chili.
Is the sauce similar then to the kind used to make pasta aglio e olio? Similar, yes, but instead of parsley, I used fresh basil.
What accounts for the similarities and differences? Alex was the one who asked me to make this pasta dish. It’s her recipe, really. But when Alex says “pesto”, she does not mean traditional Italian pesto. The girl has some serious issues against nuts. I don’t know why. So, I made Alex-style pesto — no nuts. She said to toss the pasta with her pesto and tomatoes, and that was what I did. But I wanted ham in mine so only my bowl of pasta had ham in it. Alex covered hers with grated cheese.
Note that the cooking time of three minutes indicated in the recipe is for cooking the pasta. I used capellini (angel hair) and it takes only three minutes to cook it. If you use some other pasta shape, the cooking time will vary, naturally. See how to cook al dente pasta like a pro as a guide.
Capellini, tomatoes and ham with basil and garlic sauce
- 1 to 2 cups basil leaves (depends how tightly or loosely you pack the leaves in the measuring cup)
- 3 cloves garlic roasted in an oil-free pan
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- juice of 1 to 2 limes or to taste
- 1 bird's eye chili finely chopped
- enough extra virgin olive oil to make a paste
- capellini (or your preferred pasta shape) for two, cooked al dente
- 2 to 3 tomatoes cut into wedges
- thinly sliced ham optional
Make the sauce by processing the basil leaves, garlic, salt, pepper and bird's eye chili with extra virgin olive oil. Start with a couple of tablespoonfuls of oil; add little by little, as needed. I used a food processor but a blender will do the job just as well. If you're feeling extra rustic, you can pound the solid ingredients with a mortar and pestle.
Transfer the sauce to a bowl. Add the lime juice. Taste. Add more salt and pepper, if needed.
Toss the cooked pasta with with sauce.
Add the tomatoes (and ham, if using) and toss a few more times.
You can top the dish with grated cheese before serving.