Turn Your Extra Basil Into Tallarines Verdes

Before seed hits soil, I am already dreaming of the abundance of basil that graces my tiny backyard garden in the Bronx every summer. I am thankful for my father who intentionally grows the aromatic herb for one dish only: Tallarines Verdes.

The popularity of Tallarines Verdes began with Italian immigration to Peru. Pesto was adapted with the ingredients available, becoming something all its own. Walnuts replaced pine nuts. Regional favorites, like evaporated milk and queso fresco, joined in.

The dish is well loved throughout Peru—a love shared between my father and I. We’ll continue to make Tallarines Verdes every summer to honor our Peruvian roots, and to celebrate the tenacity of our garden continuing to produce a bounty of basil each summer.

Like traditional Italian pesto, the base of Tallarines Verdes begins with basil, garlic, and olive oil and turns luscious with the addition of queso fresco and evaporated milk. The queso fresco adds a mild tang that, when blended with the evaporated milk and walnuts, produces a creamy sauce. Preparing Tallarines Verdes leans largely on a trusted blender, one pan, and a pot to cook spaghetti.

This is my go-to recipe to make use of abundance, so feel free to play around with how much basil and spinach you add. If you see a mountain of spinach and basil form in the blender, you’re doing something right.

Here’s how to make Tallarines Verdes:

Cook 1 lb. spaghetti to al dente, reserving about ¼ cup pasta water.

Heat 2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil in a large pan. Add ¼ cup chopped red onion and 4 garlic cloves, chopped to the pan. Sauté the mixture until the red onion loses its color and the garlic is slightly brown. Remove from the pan and set to the side. Add ¼ cup of chopped walnuts to the same pan and cook over medium until aromatic. Remove from the pan and set aside.

To a blender, add the sautéed mix and toasted walnuts along with 1½ cups fresh basil, 3 cups spinach, ½ cup evaporated milk, and 1 cup crumbled queso fresco. Blend until smooth and a vibrant green. From here, add salt and pepper to taste, and blend again.

Over medium heat, add the sauce back to the same pan used earlier and cook, slightly simmering until the sauce has lightened in color. Turn off the flame and add in the cooked pasta, tossing to evenly coat.

Promptly serve, with more basil and/or crumbled queso fresco on top.

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