Friday, April 8, 2011

Tallarines Verdes (Spinach Pesto)

At my grandparents’ house in Lima, Peru, I had a green pesto-like dish called Tallarines Verdes. It’s essentially a green pasta dish with a green cream that tastes like pesto — but not exactly. Now, pesto is something I love to eat but it’s expensive to make and the ingredients are difficult to find. For example, fresh basil leaves are rare in American grocery stores. Then there are pine nuts, which are not really all that expensive, but are so rarely used that they sit in your pantry forever before you use them again (if you remember you have them in the first place).
My grandma told me she was making this dish, which I remember from my childhood in Peru, but for some reason I never made the connection to basil pesto until I saw it had a few (less than a quarter of a cup) basil leaves. I used to make pesto every week during the summer a few years ago when I grew basil in my back yard.
This is not a dish that is commonly served on its own. My grandma served it alongside breaded beef steak, with cut green beans and a potato.
I present to you 'Tallarines Verdes' — which loosely translated to English means 'Green Pasta' — although we can call it Spinach Pesto.

1 pound of sirloin or loin steak
1 cup of bread crumbs
1 pound fettuccine, or any string pasta
2 cups cooked spinach (about 5 cups fresh spinach, before its cooked) and 1 cup of the water it was cooked in
1/2 cup queso fresco (a white cheese commonly found in large American grocery stores)
2 large cloves of garlic
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 large potatoes with the skin left on
1 or 2 hard-boiled eggs
1 cup raw green beans cut into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces.
salt, pepper

First, prepare the spinach pesto, since it’s the easiest to make. Basically, the only cooked ingredient is spinach; everything else is fresh.

You can add all the ingredients into a blender at once, although I usually start with the dry ingredients like basil, garlic and cheese, and pulse these a few times with the vegetable oil and about half the cup of spinach water. Add the spinach, a little at a time to keep it from clogging the blender, and add the rest of the water as needed (shoot for a more liquid consistency than the basil pesto you’re probably used to). Once this is done, set the blender aside while you prepare the rest of the meal.
With whatever method you use to steam vegetables, put the potatoes in first, since they take about 40 minutes to steam, and add the green beans about 30 minutes later.
While heating a thin layer of oil in a frying pan, pound the beef steaks to 1/4-inch thickness. Rub salt and pepper into the meat with your fingers and dip the meat into the breadcrumbs. Brown both sides of the meat. Since it’s thin, it shouldn’t take long (about 3 minutes on each side).
Cook the pasta with your own method, about 8 minutes does it for me. Drain and put it back in the pot. Add 3/4 of the pesto from the blender to the pot and mix it well.

Start by placing the green pasta on the plate, then layer some green beans on top. You can serve the potato slices on the side, leaning them up against the pasta, then pour some of the pesto on top of the potatoes and green beans. Add the meat. Garnish the whole plate with Parmesan cheese and a hard-boiled egg wedge.

More pictures in order of preparation:

Recipe prepared on 2011-02-11 (Lima, Peru). Photograph by Michael Findley.


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