Cook the Book: Pennette with Spicy Sicilian Pesto

Cook the Book: Pennette with Spicy Sicilian Pesto

[Photograph: Quentin Bacon]

This Pennette with Sicilian Pesto from Mario Batali's latest, Molto Batali takes that Ligurian classic on a trip to the south of Italy by adding brightness and heat from unique-to-Sicily ingredients. Chiles (raw and dried), mint, almonds and fennel seeds are added to the basic basil-garlic-olive oil mix giving the sauce not only gorgeous hints of subtle spice from but also a delicate sweetness from the ground almonds and fennel.

And since this is a Sicilian pesto, it's finished with Pecorino Siciliano, a crumblier sheeps' milk cheese that has just enough bite to stand up to this heartier pesto.

Batali, never one to skimp on the pasta advice recommends covering your leftover pesto with a layer of olive oil. The oil solidifies in the fridge or freezer making sure that your pesto retains that wonderfully vibrant green hue.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Molto Batali to give away this week.

Adapted from Molto Batali by Mario Batali. Copyright © 2011. Published by Ecco. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved

  • Yield:8 to 10 as a first course, 6 as a main
  • Active time: 15 minutes
  • Total time:15 minutes


  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly packed, washed and spun dry
  • ½ cup mint leaves
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 serrano chiles, stems and seeds removed
  • 1 tablespoon hot red pepper flakes
  • ½ teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ cup sliced blanched almonds
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus ¼ cup
  • ¼ cup freshly grated Pecorino Siciliano plus ¼ cup


  1. 1.

    Bring 8 quarts water to boil in a large spaghetti pot and add 2 tablespoons salt.

  2. 2.

    Place the basil, mint, garlic, Serrano chilis, red pepper flakes, fennel seeds and almonds in a food processor and pulse 3 times to start the chopping process. Add the ½ cup oil and pulse 4 or 5 times to create a thick paste, (not a thin oily sauce). Add cheese and pulse once to mix in, season with salt if it needs it and remove to a container with a lid. Carefully pour ¼ cup more olive oil over to create hermetic “lid”, cover with seal tight lid and refrigerate. This pesto will hold in the fridge like this for 2 weeks. Makes 1½ cups.

  3. 3.

    Place 1 cup of the pesto in a large warm salad bowl.

  4. 4.

    Drop the pennette into the boiling water and cook to one minute less than the package instructions. Just before it is done, carefully ladle ¼ cup of the cooking water into the bowl with the pesto. Drain the pasta in a colander and dump into the bowl with the pesto and the water. Toss gently like a salad about 30 seconds until nicely coated and serve with a scant dusting of the cheese over each portion.