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arugula pesto in pienza

One of my favorite things to do is travel and then replicate recipes once I return home.  That is, after the depression of returning home begins to fade.

While in Tuscany earlier this month, I stayed a few days in the lovely little town of Pienza. Pienze is an ancient, cobblestone paved town sandwiched between Montepulciano and Montalcino, with a few cafes and more than a few shops selling varieties of Pecorino di Pienza and cinghiale (wild boar).

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It’s no secret that I am a fan of small boutique hotels, and Pienza’s La Bandita Townhouse did not disappoint.  Exposed stone and wood beams lead you to twelve spacious, luxurious rooms outfitted with all the modern comforts….wifi, espresso machines, walk in showers, plush bedding and flat screen televisions.  And a boutique hotel that checks you in over wine and cheese on the terrace is my kind of place!

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But enough about the fabulous rooms….this post is about the delicious arugula pesto I had in their Townhouse Restaurant.  Fresh pasta tossed with a peppery arugula pesto and topped with roasted tomatoes and pecorino.

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At home, I used one of my favorite pastas, casareccia.  The S-folds in the pasta shape were perfect for soaking up the pesto.  At the risk of offending Italian chefs everywhere, I’d say you can use just about any pasta with this sauce.  The pesto also makes a lovely bruschetta topping and is great drizzled over roasted vegetables.  This recipe makes a bit more pesto than you will need for 1 pound of pasta, so have fun with the leftovers.

Pasta with Arugula Pesto and Roasted Tomatoes

4 ounces arugula (about 4 handfuls)

zest of 1 lemon (I use a microplane)

1/3 cup almonds

2 cloves garlic

1 cup parmesan or aged pecorino, finely grated

3/4-1 cup good quality olive oil

1 pound good quality pasta

1 pound roasted grape or cherry tomatoes

Parmesan or pecorino for serving

For the Pesto:

Place all ingredients except olive oil in bowl of food processor.

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Pulse while streaming in oil (start with 3/4 cup and add more if needed).  Season with salt and pepper.

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For assembly:

Cook pasta according to package directions, preferably al dente.  Before draining pasta, reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water (you may need this if the pasta dish is a bit “dry”).  Place pasta in large bowl with roasted tomatoes.  Add about 2/3 of the pesto.

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Toss to coat pasta.  Add salt and pepper if needed.

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Serve immediately, garnished with additional cheese if desired.

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