For this twist on pesto, I wanted to lean on the oily nature of chile crisp. The key is to pour in some of the red oil to get the food processor going, but then fold in the solids after blending to retain the crunchy bits. Peanuts take the place of pine nuts because they are toasty but also more affordable and readily available. Plus, they are present in spicy recipes across Asian cuisine. For the cheese, I opted for Pecorino Romano, which is drier than Pecorino Toscano. It provides a sheepy tang as opposed to the umami blast of Parmesan or Grana Padano (but please feel free to use them, if that’s all you can find). To add heft, try big slabs of mozzarella, juicy tomatoes, or a grilled chicken breast on top. Leftover pesto can be used in sandwiches, omelets, or a simply dressed Caprese salad.
- Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil with a handful of kosher salt.
- Cook the spaghetti for 8 to 10 minutes or according to the package’s instructions for al dente.
- Reserve 1/2 cup of the salty pasta water and drain the rest.
- Place the basil, garlic, peanuts, Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, lime juice, and ½ teaspoon kosher salt in the bowl of a food processor.
- Pour off the red chile oil from the chile crisp into the bowl, reserving the solids.
- Pulse the mixture a few times before running it on low for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Use a spatula to scrape down the sides. Blend until the leaves have all broken down and no peanut halves are visible.
- Fold the rest of the chile crisp into the pesto.
- Place the spaghetti pack into the pot with 1 cup of the pesto and ¼ cup of the pasta water.
- Bring it back to a boil.
- Once boiling, turn the heat down to medium and toss the pesto with the pasta to incorporate. Continue to cook until the pasta water has evaporated and the pesto coats all of the noodles.
- Taste the pasta and add more lime juice, Parmesan, and/or chile crisp to taste.
- Divide the spaghetti between four bowls and finish with lime zest.
- Level leftover pesto out in a small container using the back of a spoon and top off with the remaining olive oil to store for up to 3 days.
Jenn de la Vega is TASTE's Cook In Residence and the writer behind the blog Randwiches.