It Was Cold and I Wanted Pasta: Penne with Spicy Goat Cheese and Hazelnut Pesto

My love affair with New York has hit a bump. It has nothing to do with New York, really, just living up North. It gets very dark very early now that we’ve set our clocks back. I leave school at 5 o’clock and it’s almost completely dark out. How depressing!

Plus tonight it was cold. The air was stinging a bit. If life were a novel, this would be the foreshadowing–winter is fast approaching. What will I do in those bitter months when the darkness and coldness overwhelm me? Who will I turn to?

I know… Mario Batali!

Tonight I cracked open his “Simple Italian Cooking” and found a scrumptious and easy looking recipe for Penne with Spicy Goat Cheese and Hazelnut Pesto. It required 2 cups of basil so I worried the store wouldn’t have it now that summer is over. But I was wrong. They did have basil. They just didn’t have hazelnuts. So I subbed walnuts. It was only a quarter of a cup, anyway, and I don’t think it made a huge difference.

Actually, it brought to mind a golden nugget of wisdom I gleaned from a random Julia Child episode I caught. She said, “A real chef doesn’t stop a recipe just because they’re missing an ingredient or they louse up a step. It’s about working with what you have.” (I worded that myself, but the spirit is the same).

So walnuts it was.

As for the basil, I washed it in the sink but sinced I didn’t have a salad spinner I had to dry it on layer upon layer of paper towels. I really should by a salad spinner:

Here’s the recipe with photographs. If you still have basil around you, I highly recommend it. Came out great.

First make the Hazelnut Pesto.


2 cups fresh Basil leaves, lightly packed, washed and spun dry.

2 garlic cloves.

1 tsp hot red pepper flakes.

1/4 cup hazelnuts.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil.


Place the basil, garlic, red pepper flakes and hazelnuts in a food processor…


and pulse 3 times to start the chopping process. Turn the machine on and drizzle in the olive oil in a thin stream. Season with salt.


PART TWO requires:

8 oz. penne

the pesto


4 oz fresh soft Goat Cheese (preferably Coach farm, at room temperature)

Bring about 6 quarts of water to a boil and add about 2 Tbs of salt.

Cook the penne according to package instructions until tender but still al dente, and drain well. Transfer the pesto to a 12 to 14-inch saute pan. Whisk in the cheese until smooth. Toss the penne into the pesto mixture and stir together over very low heat for 1 minute, until thoroughly coated. Pour into a warm serving dish and serve.


The perfect antidote to a winter that hasn’t come yet.

8 thoughts on “It Was Cold and I Wanted Pasta: Penne with Spicy Goat Cheese and Hazelnut Pesto”

  1. This looks delicious! Hmmm…you’ve made me reconsider my dinner for tonight. I was planning on doing a pasta with vodka sauce, roasted peppers and chicken but the lure of pesto and goat cheese is quite strong. Thanks for sharing that recipe; I’m looking forward to trying it. And don’t worry about NYC winter. Yes, the afternoon darkness is depressing but you’ll love it during the winter holidays when the city is all decorated with lights. It’s gorgeous.

  2. Cook’s Illustrated recommends the Oxo Good Grips salad spinner. They make a slightly smallish one that’s perfect for apartment dwellers.

    Get one!! It will change your life!! Drying basil leaves on paper towels indeed!!

  3. Have the oxo salad spinner and love it. The smaller one is more efficient because it fits easily in the fridge for extra leafy greens. If you are worried about getting the small one because you sometimes wash large amounts of greens, you can always wash and spin in batches.

  4. I am totally making this tonight.

    I’ve been lurking since the end of Gourmet Survivor. Hello! I live in California and my basil is still alive. I killed the dill, but one out of eight ain’t bad. (Though, one of those “herbs” is really catnip, so I don’t think that counts.)

    And I have a salad spinner, but half the time I end up storing half-flats of strawberries in it and shaking my salad leaves dry impatiently. So paper-towel-dry on, man.

  5. i made this tonight! for some reason, the walnut bits were still kinda chunky (must be my cheap food processor). i had forgotten to add the garlic though. :(

  6. I made this the same day you posted it, and my wife and I both thought it was delicious. However, it killed me to shell out five bucks for two cups of basil. I would like to grow my own, but I do have a track record of killing everything I touch (I”m actually writing to you from cell block C now). Can anyone offer some reassurances about growing your own basil?

  7. Richard-growing basil is super easy. No special treatment really-just sun, water and love :D It grows pretty quickly too. If I were you I’d start with the little seedlings (is that the correct word?) that come in the little plastic cells at garden places.

  8. Here’s an alternative to buying a salad spinner and especially if your washing machine is in the kitchen. Pop the washed greens in a pillowcase (a clean one, obviously), toss it in the washing machine and turn on the spin. Comes out a treat.

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