Updated: Sep 14
paper-thin egg & water dough sheets tossed with basil pesto.
Mandilli de saea, or pasta silk handkerchiefs (for their size and thinness) in Genoese dialect, are large, paper-thin egg & water dough sheets that drape beautifully in the bowl, typically tossed with pesto. It’s one of the easiest shapes you can make by hand. You only need a sheet of pasta, cut into the size of handkerchiefs, or about 12 x 12 cm.
This is the way people in Liguria make lasagne al pesto. I immediately fell in love with this shape, it’s so simple, elegant and totally luxurious. After the mandilli are coated in the pesto they're then folded over on themselves so that they look like a pile of green handkerchiefs when you serve them.
It’s not a very common shape of pasta to find in restaurants, in fact only a few serve them. One of the finest examples is the mandilli de saea they make at the factory kitchen in California, which are beautiful and silky! Another great location to try them is in Liguria at “Da Laura” in the small Ligurian town of San Fruttuoso, only a 30 min ferry ride from Portofino. I will make sure to visit this gem as soon as I can go back to Italy! In the meantime, we can make them at home, so here is the recipe:
Makes 4 serves - Preparation time 1 hour - resting time 30 min - cooking time 10 min
400g 00 flour,
1 tbs extra-virgin olive oil,
½ tsp salt
1/4 cup pinenuts
1 cup fresh basil leaves
½ cup fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 clove garlic (roasted or fresh)
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
1. MAKING THE PASTA SHEETS
Mix all the ingredients with a fork until everything is combined, then knead for about 15 minutes until soft and smooth. Cover and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
When ready divide the dough into 4 balls. Roll each out as thinly as possible—either on a lightly floured work surface using a rolling pin or with a pasta machine. Cut each sheet into 12 to 14 cm squares. Set squares aside, layered between clean dish towels.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat, and in the meantime prepare the pesto sauce.
2. MAKING PESTO SAUCE
In a medium frying pan, toast pine nuts over medium heat, stirring frequently until nice and fragrant, about 3 to 5 minutes. Pour them into a bowl to cool down. Toasted pine nuts give extra flavor, but you can also use them untoasted.
Combine olive oil, basil, parsley, pine nuts, garlic and salt in a food processor or blender. With the machine running, slowly drizzle in a few spoonful of very cold water. Continue processing until the mixture is well blended but still has some texture, pausing to scrape down the sides as necessary.
Scrape down your pesto in a bowl and add black pepper and Parmesan. Stir well with a spoon to combine all ingredients, taste and adjust seasoning if required.
3. COOKING PASTA
Bring a large pot of salted water (a table spoon each liter of water) to a boil. Add 1 tbsp. oil and half the handkerchiefs and cook until pasta is tender, 1–2 minutes.
Spoon about 3–4 tbsp pesto in a large bowl and dilute with ½ cup of pasta cooking water. Pesto is one of the rare pasta sauces that isn’t heated, all for the sake of keeping that beautiful emerald green colour.
4. ASSEMBLING THE DISH
Remove the pasta carefully with a slotted spoon, drain in a colander and toss with pesto in the bowl.
Add a few tablespoons of the pasta water, a drizzle of olive oil and combine together. Serve immediately.
Repeat with remaining handkerchiefs. Serve with a few extra basil leaves and Parmesan to garnish.
We loved this pasta, and paired it with a wonderful Arneis from Piemonte!
WHAT MAKES A PERFECT PESTO?
Pesto is very versatile, it can be used as a sauce for pasta, and can be drizzled over grilled or roasted fish or vegetables. It can also be whipped into ricotta and used as ravioli filling or a spread for an easy and tasty Bruschetta.
Pesto can be blended in a blender or can be pounded in a marble mortar with a pestle.
As much as I hate to admit it, pounded pesto always tastes better than the blended one.
In this recipe I use the blender, but feel free to use a mortar instead.
When using a machine to blend basil, the key is to avoid overdoing it, because the oxidation that occurs from overchopping, will cause the basil to turn brown. So, pour half of the olive oil into the bottom of the blender, to encourage the basil to break down into liquid as quickly as possible.
The heat the motor generates will also cause the basil to turn brown, so drizzle in a few spoonful of very cold water while blending.
Make sure not to blend the Parmesan in the blender, this would change its texture and flavour. Instead, add it at the end and just mix with a spoon to combine all ingredients.
Using raw garlic in a pesto, gives a very strong taste, so if you, like me, don’t like that, just roast or lightly sautee the garlic with a bit of olive oil in a small frying pan. I recently watched Massimo Bottura’s Masterclass, and he just cut the garlic open and rubbed it in the internal walls of the blender to make pesto. By doing this, you will have a very light scent of garlic.
Pesto lends itself particularly well to substitutions. So, change the greens (spinach, pea shoots, baby chard, zucchini, broccoli), nuts (walnuts, almonds, pistachios, macadamia nuts) and cheese (Pecorino Romano, Asiago, Manchego) depending on what you have on hand. Create your own pesto with the ingredients you like the most, and enjoy it!
HOW TO STORE PESTO
Store leftover pesto, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Add enough olive oil to cover the sauce to prevent oxidation. Pesto can also be frozen—my favorite way is in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, transfer to a container with a lid, then you can thaw only as much as you need later.
Hope you enjoy this recipe! If you make it, please let me know your thoughts and tag me on my Fb page Pasta Journey or my Instagram a_pasta_journey . I would love to hear from you!