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Milk Street Recipe
Milk Street Bowtie Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto (Spaghetti al Pesto di Prezzemolo)

Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto (Spaghetti al Pesto di Prezzemolo)

25 minutes

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Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto (Spaghetti al Pesto di Prezzemolo)

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“Spaghetti with parsley pesto” is the literal translation, from the Italian, of spaghetti al pesto di prezzemolo, but it does not sufficiently convey the deliciousness of this dish. The recipe is an adaptation of one taught to us by chef Antonio Cioffi at La Vecchia Cantina in Ravello near the Amalfi Coast. Cioffi uses neither nuts nor Parmesan in his incredibly savory parsley pesto. Rather, its umami richness and full, complex flavor came from colatura di alici, an Italian fermented anchovy condiment akin to Southeast Asian fish sauce. As we worked to re-create the dish, we learned that though the two fish-based ingredients share similarities, they were not interchangeable in this application. Colatura di alici is saltier, less pungent and smoother in taste than fish sauce. It does, however, require a trip to an Italian specialty store, so in its stead, ; we found just a single oil-packed anchovy fillet, rinsed and patted dry, to be a good substitute. better substitution than fish sauce. We also adopted Cioffi’s technique of quickly blanching the parsley before pureeing it; this step is key for creating a luxurious, silky-smooth pesto with an emerald green hue. Lemon zest and juice added at the very end bring citrusy sparkle to the dish. If you wish to use a different pasta than spaghetti, twisty shapes such as fusilli and gemelli work nicely.

4 to 6

Servings

Tip

Don’t skip the step of “shocking” the parsley in ice water after briefly blanching it. This immediately stops the cooking, keeping the color and flavor bright and fresh. Also, don’t worry about wringing every last drop of water out of the parsley before pureeing. A little moisture is fine and helps with easy blending.

25 minutes

Kosher salt and ground black pepper
1 large bunch flat-leaf parsley (about 4 ounces), trimmed of bottom 1 inch
1 small garlic clove, smashed and peeled
2 1/2 teaspoons colatura di alici (see headnote) or 1 oil-packed anchovy fillet, rinsed and patted dry
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve
1 pound spaghetti
4 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 4 teaspoons lemon juice, plus more grated zest to serve
Ingredients
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

  • 1

    large bunch flat-leaf parsley (about 4 ounces), trimmed of bottom 1 inch

  • 1

    small garlic clove, smashed and peeled

  • teaspoons colatura di alici (see headnote) or 1 oil-packed anchovy fillet, rinsed and patted dry

  • ¾

    cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve

  • 1

    pound spaghetti

  • 4

    teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 4 teaspoons lemon juice, plus more grated zest to serve

Directions
  1. 01
    In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and set it near the stovetop. To the boiling water, add 1 tablespoon salt and the parsley; cook, stirring, until just wilted, about 15 seconds. Using a slotted spoon or mesh sieve, immediately scoop out the parsley and transfer it to the ice bath. Let stand, stirring once or twice, until fully chilled, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat under the pot to medium.
  2. 02
    Remove the parsley from the ice bath and squeeze with your hands until mostly dry. Roughly chop the parsley, then add it to a blender along with the garlic, colatura de alici or anchovy and the oil. Puree on high, scraping the blender jar as needed, until the mixture is smooth and thick, 1 to 2 minutes. If the parsley doesn’t fully break down, while the blender is running, drizzle in cold water 1 teaspoon at a time as needed until the pesto is smooth.
  3. 03
    Return the water to a boil over medium-high. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve about ¾ cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the pesto and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water; cook over medium, vigorously tossing and stirring, until the pesto clings to the spaghetti, about 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and juice and toss in more reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time as needed so the spaghetti is well sauced. Remove from the heat, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve drizzled with additional oil and sprinkled with additional lemon zest.
Tip: Don’t skip the step of “shocking” the parsley in ice water after briefly blanching it. This immediately stops the cooking, keeping the color and flavor bright and fresh. Also, don’t worry about wringing every last drop of water out of the parsley before pureeing. A little moisture is fine and helps with easy blending.
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Spaghetti with Parsley Pesto (Spaghetti al Pesto di Prezzemolo)

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4 to 6

Servings

25 minutes

Tip

Don’t skip the step of “shocking” the parsley in ice water after briefly blanching it. This immediately stops the cooking, keeping the color and flavor bright and fresh. Also, don’t worry about wringing every last drop of water out of the parsley before pureeing. A little moisture is fine and helps with easy blending.

Ingredients
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper

  • 1

    large bunch flat-leaf parsley (about 4 ounces), trimmed of bottom 1 inch

  • 1

    small garlic clove, smashed and peeled

  • teaspoons colatura di alici (see headnote) or 1 oil-packed anchovy fillet, rinsed and patted dry

  • ¾

    cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve

  • 1

    pound spaghetti

  • 4

    teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 4 teaspoons lemon juice, plus more grated zest to serve

Step 1 of 3

Cook the Parsley

4
quarts water
1
tablespoon salt
1
large bunch flat-leaf parsley (about 4 ounces), trimmed of bottom 1 inch

In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to a boil. Fill a medium bowl with ice water and set it near the stovetop. To the boiling water, add 1 tablespoon salt and the parsley; cook, stirring, until just wilted, about 15 seconds. Using a slotted spoon or mesh sieve, immediately scoop out the parsley and transfer it to the ice bath. Let stand, stirring once or twice, until fully chilled, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat under the pot to medium.


Step 2 of 3

Make the Pesto

1
small garlic clove, smashed and peeled
teaspoons colatura di alici (see headnote) or 1 oil-packed anchovy fillet, rinsed and patted dry
¾
cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve

Remove the parsley from the ice bath and squeeze with your hands until mostly dry. Roughly chop the parsley, then add it to a blender along with the garlic, colatura de alici or anchovy and the oil.


Puree on high, scraping the blender jar as needed, until the mixture is smooth and thick, 1 to 2 minutes. If the parsley doesn’t fully break down, while the blender is running, drizzle in cold water 1 teaspoon at a time as needed until the pesto is smooth.

Step 3 of 3

Finish and Serve

1
pound spaghetti
4
teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus 4 teaspoons lemon juice, plus more grated zest to serve
Kosher salt and ground black pepper

Return the water to a boil over medium-high. Add the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Reserve about ¾ cup of the cooking water, then drain the pasta and return it to the pot.


Add the pesto and ½ cup of the reserved pasta water; cook over medium, vigorously tossing and stirring, until the pesto clings to the spaghetti, about 2 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and juice and toss in more reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time as needed so the spaghetti is well sauced.


Remove from the heat, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve drizzled with additional oil and sprinkled with additional lemon zest.

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