“Silk Handkerchief” Pasta with Pesto (Mandilli de Saea al Pesto Genovese)

Mandilli de saea (the name is Genoese for “silk handkerchiefs”) are delicate, handkerchief-size sheets of pasta, typically tossed with pesto. Traditionalists might object, but Gianni Belforte, like other modern chefs, makes pesto in a food processor.

“Silk Handkerchiefs” with Pesto (Mandilli de Saea al Pesto Genovese)

The pasta squares called mandilli de saea, Genoese for “silk handkerchiefs” (for their size and thinness), are large, paper-thin egg-dough sheets that drape beautifully in the bowl, almost always dressed with pesto. The result is a kind of purity of pasta–certainly less complex than some other Genoese dishes, but with an elegance and grace not ordinarily associated with a plate of noodles. Like other Genoese set pieces, it seems wonderfully anachronistic–deliciously edible link with a fabled past. Get the recipe for Silk Handkerchiefs with Pesto »

SERVES 6-8

The pasta squares called mandilli de saea, Genoese for “silk handkerchiefs” (for their size and thinness), are large, paper-thin egg-dough sheets that drape beautifully in the bowl, almost always dressed with pesto. The result is a kind of purity of pasta—certainly less complex than some other Genoese dishes, but with an elegance and grace not ordinarily associated with a plate of noodles. Like other Genoese set pieces, it seems wonderfully anachronistic—deliciously edible link with a fabled past.

For the Pasta:

3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
5 eggs
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

For the Pesto:

1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
3 tbsp. pine nuts
Salt
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, preferably small and young
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino sardo
1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

  1. For the pasta, sift flour and salt torgether onto a large work surface. Make a well in the center of the flour, add eggs, one at a time, working into flour with your hands. Continue kneading until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.

  2. Divide dough into 4 balls. Roll each out as thinly as possible—either on a lightly floured work surace using a rolling pin or with a pasta machine. Cut each sheet into 12 to 14 4″ squares. Set squares aside, layered between clean dish towels.

  3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, pulse garlic and pine nuts with salt in a food processor until finely ground. Add basil and pulse while slowly drizzling in oil. Add pecorino sardo and parmigiano-reggiano and puree, frequently scraping sides with a spatula, until pesto is smooth and creamy. Set aside.

  4. To the boiling water, add 1 tbsp. oil and half the pasta, and cook until pasta is tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove carefully with a slotted spoon, drain in a colander, and toss with half the remaining oil. Repeat with remaining pasta. Dilute pesto with 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water and puree until creamy, about 1 minute. Gently toss hot pasta with pesto and serve immediately.

Variation—Instead of a food processor, use a mortar and pestle to crush garlic with pine nuts. When smooth, add basil a bit at a time. Grind into a coarse paste, add a little salt, and stir in cheese. Drizzle in oil and continue to grind until smooth. Continue as in step 4.

See more on Mandilli de Saea and other Genoese specialties in Colman Andrews’ article “Italian Food You’ve Never Dreamed Of” »