Culinary Arts

Chef Massimo Bottura’s Mint-Basil Pesto Recipe

Written by MasterClass

Aug 23, 2019 • 2 min read

“If tradition doesn’t respect the ingredients, you must change the recipe.” —Massimo Bottura

Adapting and altering dishes based on the quality, seasonality, and freshness of ingredients is one calling card of a great chef. No dish in the Italian culinary canon exemplifies this principle more than pesto. Pesto is made with very simple ingredients: basil, extra-virgin olive oil, garlic, Parmigiano, and pine nuts. But you don’t have to limit yourself to that particular formula. If fresh basil isn’t readily available or you don’t have any pine nuts, have the confidence to change course, using another herb in place of the basil or replacing the pine nuts with fresh bread crumbs.



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For this pesto recipe, Chef Massimo Bottura amplifies the herbaceousness of the sauce with fresh mint and thyme (herbs that complement fresh basil leaves) as opposed to rosemary or sage (herbs that can overpower basil). Bread crumbs, used in place of pine nuts, add flavor and body. He urges you to follow your palate, trust your instincts, and, as always, taste. His recipe may not be the most traditional, but you won’t miss tradition if you can create a pesto tailor-made to your palate.

This recipe is all about adapting: to the season, to the ingredients, to your tastes. “You already know the technique,” Massimo says, “so add a little bit of each element at a time, taste as you go, and you will find your own flavor.” If you don’t have fusilli, use another pasta like cavatappi or penne rigate—any shape that has lots of surface area for the sauce to cling to.

Massimo's pasta with pesto upclose on white plate

Chef Massimo Bottura’s Fusilli With Basil-Mint Pesto Recipe

Prep Time
10 min
Total Time
25 min
Cook Time
15 min
  • Kosher salt
  • 14 ounces (400 grams) dried fusilli pasta
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 8¾ ounces (250 grams) extra-virgin olive oil, plus more
  • 3 cups lightly packed basil leaves
  • 1 bunch fresh mint leaves
  • 1 thyme branch
  • 2½ ounces (75 grams) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 3½ ounces (100 grams) freshly ground bread crumbs
  1. Cook the pasta. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season liberally with salt. Add the fusilli to the water and cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about eight minutes.
  2. Make the pesto. While the pasta is cooking, make the pesto sauce: Halve the garlic clove and rub its cut sides along the inside of your blender. Pour in the olive oil, then add the basil. Strip the mint leaves from the stem, add the leaves to the blender, then add the stem to the boiling pasta water. Remove as many thyme leaves as you can from the branch, add them to the blender, then add the branch to the boiling water as well. Add half the Parmigiano and half the bread crumbs to the blender. With the blender on, slowly stream in ½ cup of ice-cold water, adding more water by the tablespoonful, until the sauce blends smoothly. Add the remaining Parmigiano, season with salt, and blend again until smooth.
  3. Toast the rest of the bread crumbs. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add the remaining half of the bread crumbs and cook, tossing occasionally, until toasted and crunchy, about four minutes. Transfer the bread crumbs to paper towels to drain and cool.
  4. Serve. When the pasta is ready, drain it, reserving at least ½ cup of the cooking water but discarding the herb stems. Return the drained pasta to the pot, and stir in the pesto sauce along with more olive oil (about 1 ounce, or 30 grams) to emulsify the pasta and make it shiny, adding some cooking water by the spoonful to make a creamy, silky sauce. Spoon the pasta into four bowls, and sprinkle the toasted bread crumbs over the top to serve.

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