Courgetti with Pistachio Pesto and Smoked Trout
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
"The pistachio: it's just like our politics. When the two sides are divided, that's when the nuts come out."
Steven Colbert (1964-)
It seems we move in rapid order from my previous post inspired by the south of Italy (or not!) to the present one inspired by the north of Italy (or not!).
The misfortune of not having Dorset Fish in the farmers' market a couple of weekends ago, due to the weather coming from Storm Darcy, was met with the pleasant surprise of finding Hampshire-based Chalk Stream Foods, playing a guest-starring role in the market for the first time in my memory of 10+ years. They normally sell at another nearby farmers' market on a Saturday so it was a real delight to chat with them and, not least, share our experiences of the antics of adolescent spaniel pups! I bought a pack of their cold-smoked trout.
At more or less the same time my lovely friend the bellissima Manu posted a dish on her Instagram page of "Tagliolini with Pistachio Pesto and Smoked Salmon". It looked fantastic so I asked her for the recipe and tried it with the smoked trout. Sensational! I'm not the biggest fan of pine nuts which are the convention in a traditional pesto but I love pistachios, have done since a child, so the idea of making a pesto using pistachios had immediate appeal. The word pesto means "to pound" or "to crush" so it is perfectly in order to make a "Pistachio Pesto". And traditional pesto originates in the Liguria region in the north west of Italy, a region which borders Provence in the south east of France where one finds a local creation called "Pistou", extremely similar in composition to Italian pesto but for the omission of cheese, and typically added to a vegetable soup for its fragrant and spiky contribution. Pistachios, though, are more of a southern Italian ingredient.
Digging a bit deeper it turns out that the pistachio pesto recipe had been in Manu's cousin's notebook for a long time, a recipe she valued because, like me, she wasn't the greatest fan of pine nuts. The dish would have little additions to finish it off, for example, in Manu's case, some prawns fried with garlic. Manu's digression to using smoked salmon was inspired by a recipe by Casa Pappagallo, a charming Italian food blog. She explained to me that because the dish is designed to made very quickly this is a particularly good occasion to use fresh pasta and tagliolini is just the thing - and conveniently my local Italian delicatessen always has fresh tagliolini for sale. But I couldn't help thinking that, with courgette and basil being such great platemates, there was an opportunity here to create a healthy, low-carb, low-calorie little number which packs a punch in the flavour department. If I may say so, I am really pleased with the outcome.
Let me be clear: it's not that I wish to play down smoked salmon - quite the opposite - our best home-produced stuff is fantastic, but not cheap! At the other end of the scale we can buy packets of smoked salmon in our supermarkets but the quality can be quite disappointing. However at this lower end of the price scale, one is able to buy a much higher quality smoked trout, simply because it doesn't, for whatever reason, carry the the prestige. What you get for what you pay is so much in your favour, and this was something that I became aware of really quite a long time ago.
Trust me, this is delicious! But when given its Italian name "Spaghetti di Zucchine al Pesto di Pistacchio e Trota Affumicata", does it not just taste even better straight away?! Either way, it's a breeze to make, and very, very quick once the pesto has been made.
I love the touch of adding ice during the pesto-making process. It's a simple and effective way of preserving the green colour and is just that sort of cunning little, no-fuss technique that always delights in the discovering within an accomplished recipe.
The ingredient quantities for the pesto will make approximately 250g finished pesto. This is probably sufficient for 3 servings but any extra will keep in the fridge for several days, especially if covered with a layer of olive oil and in a very airtight jar. That said, do have the pesto at room temperature before beginning to make this dish.
By far the easiest way to make courgetti is to use a "Julienne" peeler like the one in this link. However it is possible to use a long kitchen knife, and a little bit of skill to get something quite close to the same result. Alternatively, this was originally a pasta dish, so in the Note there is a guide to putting this dish together using fresh tagliolini.
Courgetti with Pistachio Pesto and Smoked Trout
Ingredients (Serves 2)
80g pistachios, without shell (plus extra for garnish, see below)
1 small garlic clove, roughly chopped
15g fresh basil leaves, approximately 20-30 leaves, 2-3 sprigs
A couple of ice cubes, slightly crushed to help the blender
15g Parmesan, grated
10 tbsp/150ml extra virgin olive oil (approximate quantity)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
100g smoked trout (cold-smoked), torn into bite-sized pieces
500g large courgettes
2 tsp olive oil
1-2 tbsp water
A few extra pistachios, without shell, coarsely chopped, for garnish (recommended)
A few basil leaves, torn at the last minute, for garnish (optional)
To make the pesto, put the pistachios, chopped garlic, basil leaves, crushed ice and Parmesan in a blender and blitz. Add the olive oil in batches until the mixture reaches a smooth, creamy texture. This can be kept aside or stored in the fridge for a few days (see recipe intro).
Prepare the courgetti. Either very finely slice the courgette lengthways and then cut the strips into thin strands or use a "julienne peeler" (as in this link). Whichever approach you use, you probably want to discard the seeded and watery core such that you end up with 350g of courgetti.
Heat the 2 tsp olive oil in a sauté pan high-sided frying pan and add the courgetti and a little seasoning. Sweat the courgetti, without colour, over a medium heat for about 2-3 mins, stirring regularly, until they have become soft and steamed off a bit of their natural water content. Turn out the heat then stir in half of the smoked trout and the desired amount of the pistachio pesto plus 1-2 tbsp water as required to achieve a creamy coating. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Divide between serving dishes, layer the remaining smoked trout across the top, sprinkle over the chopped pistachios and garnish with torn basil leaves, if liked. Serve straightaway.
To make with fresh tagliolini: Instead of steps 2 and 3, cook 200-250g fresh tagliolini in plenty of boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes until al dente. Meanwhile put the desired amount of pesto in a large mixing bowl with half of the smoked trout. When the pasta is ready drain it through a colander but collect a ladle-full or so of the cooking water. Stir the pasta into the contents of the mixing bowl using up to a ladle-full of the pasta cooking water as desired to achieve a creamy coating. Taste and adjust the seasoning then proceed with step 4.