this thing's incredible

The Jarred Pasta Sauce Grub Street’s Diner-at-Large Uses When She Has a Rare Night Off

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I’ve been subscribed to diner-at-large Tammie Teclemariam’s Grub Street newsletter — a weekly musing on the countless restaurants across the five boroughs of New York City where she has eaten — since it launched in late January. She’s out most days, often going to multiple places per meal, which is how she has managed to cover 134 establishments in just 12 weeks (a feat that seems as overwhelming as it is enviable). I followed Teclemariam’s work and social media before she got this gig and know she used to be an avid home cook. 

It makes sense, then, that a recent Instagram story she posted got me intrigued. It was of a small jar of pistachio pesto alongside a bag of pasta with the caption “Pistachio pesto is the truth !!!” It seems funny to call a nut trendy, but with our recent musings on pistachio milk and pistachio paste, maybe pistachio is, in fact, a hot ingredient right now. At the very least, Teclemariam has translated her kitchen savvy from cooking dinner from scratch to knowing that this pantry staple will make a delicious but decidedly unfussy meal on nights she’s stuck at home writing on deadline. “Really I should crush the pistachios myself,” she told me when I asked for the details, “but I’m a busy girl now!” 

Even before the pandemic, cooking was a huge thing for me. Then the pandemic made it an even bigger thing. I have five roommates, so I have a sixth of the fridge, and it used to be a problem for me. I would really push up on the edge of my use of that space. But then I got this job, and I literally have stopped cooking basically except for the days that I’m on deadline. And if it’s a night that I’m at home writing, I will usually make a bowl of pasta.

I had actually been thinking about pistachio pesto since this wine press trip I went to in Italy in September. It was lunch from the hotel restaurant in the middle of nowhere in Sicily. And everybody I was with was like, “What is this? This is so awesome.” And they told us, “It’s pistachios.” It was pistachio pesto, and it might have had a little bit of basil in it and a little bit of burrata mixed in or something, but it was just a really rich, big pistachio flavor. We were all so into it.

It had been on my mind since then, and I originally wanted to make it from scratch. But in Italy, the Sicilian pistachios are really good. They’re Bronte pistachios, and they’re really oily — high quality. My favorite pistachios for snacking on are Turkish ones, which are thinner and very snappy, and they have this savory flavor. And I knew I wouldn’t have the same result if I went with California pistachios because they’re very big and sweet. So in my mind, I was going to shell out one day for the Bronte pistachios and then get a suribachi or a mortar and pestle and grind them up and have an amazing pasta. But obviously I never got around to that. Then I was drunk-shopping in Eataly, as you do, and they had this jar on sale, and it already has the quality of the Italian pistachios in it. It also has extra-virgin olive oil in it already, and those are basically the two main flavors that are going to carry any pasta I would make. You can see the color through the jar; it looks intense and fresh.

I just mix up the pasta — enough for one serving — with about a quarter of the jar, so I would say a generous two tablespoons or so. The pistachio flavor does a lot of work; it brings a lot of richness. I add a clove of grated garlic and a bunch of Parmesan, and that’s it. I think American kitchens aren’t yet using nuts as thickeners as widely as they do in Italy, but they’re a really good thickener. It’s a little bit gritty, in the same way that you would have gritty bits of pine nut in a regular pesto Genovese. There’s just more of them.

This one emulsifies really nicely and gets creamy with the cheese. It becomes an elegant sauce that happens to be really easy to put together. The technique you’re supposed to use when finishing pasta is called mantecare. It’s the process of combining the starchy pasta with water and cheese and whatever else into something that becomes sauce. Am I as good at it as the people who worked at the hotel restaurant? No, but I’m getting there. Obviously, now I’ve got to develop my own recipe. This is just the beginning of my pistachio-pesto thing.

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The Jarred Sauce Grub Street’s Diner-at-Large Loves