Recipe: Bucatini with Swordfish and Basil Almond Pesto
I always feel a little guilty when I get creative with pesto. In Liguria, where traditional basil pesto was born, it’s served only with pasta, usually trofie, a twisty shape from the region, and with the addition of string beans and cubed potatoes. To use it as a sauce on anything else is considered an abomination, usually a sin committed by an American. I don’t want to be accused of messing with a classic, but I love basil pesto as a sauce for fish, especially fish straight off a grill. They make a beautiful combination. And pasta tossed with a bit of seafood and pesto, you have to admit, can be a great thing too. You just need to think it through, keep it clean, and not serve it to any Genoese.
I’ve developed a pesto that I use almost exclusively with fish. It has more olive oil, more basil, no or almost no cheese, and very fresh summer garlic—not a ton of it but usually only one clove. Oh, and I blanch the basil, so it doesn’t go all gray and ugly on me. I used swordfish here because my Greenmarket fish man had it, and it looked beautiful. Fresh sardine fillets are also wonderful in this dish, and I’ve made a version that I love with mussels, too, opening the mussels in a little dry Marsala, straining their cooking liquid, and adding them and the liquid to the pasta along with the pesto.
Since this pasta contains fish, I think of it as a piatto unico, a one-dish meal, so I serve it that way. It’s really nice followed by a tomato salad.
Bucatini with Swordfish and Basil Almond Pesto
(Serves 2 as a main course)
For the pesto:
2 cups early summer basil leaves, loosely packed
1 large, very fresh summer garlic clove, roughly chopped
⅓ cup blanched fresh almonds
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil (a very fruity one such as Ravida, from Sicily)
2 tablespoons grated grana Padano cheese
½ pound bucatini
¾ pound swordfish, skinned and cut into small cubes
½ teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon semi-hot paprika, such as the Basque piment d’Espelette
Extra-virgin olive oil
A splash of dry Marsala
Bring a large pot of pasta cooking water to a boil. Add the basil leaves, and blanch them for about 30 seconds. Use a large strainer to scoop them from the water into a colander , and run cold water over them to set their green color (or plunge them into a waiting ice bath). Squeeze out as much water as you can.
Drop the garlic and the almonds into a food processor, and pulse until you have a rough chop. Add the basil, the olive oil, the grana Padano, and a little salt, and pulse a few more times until you have a not-too-smooth texture.
Bring the water back to a boil, and add a generous amount of salt. Drop in the bucatini.
Sprinkle the swordfish cubes with salt, the sugar, and the hot paprika.
Set out a pasta serving bowl.
Set up a large skillet over high heat. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil. When it’s just about smoking, add the swordfish, and sear it quickly, for about a minute or so, shaking the skillet a bit to cook the fish evenly. Add the Marsala, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Transfer the swordfish and any cooking juices to the pasta bowl.
When the bucatini is al dente, drain it, saving a little of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the bowl. Add the pesto, and toss until everything is well coated, adding a tablespoon or so of cooking water, if necessary, to give it a creamy texture. Serve right away.