Peruvian Pesto

In Peru, the pasta is partially boiled, then drained and added to the sauce, where it finishes cooking in the skillet. This technique effectively under-hydrates the pasta and allows it to absorb—rather than simply be coated by—the flavorful pesto found on the cooking site.

Of course this is not spaghetti with pesto. It is tallarines verde. It is a Peruvian dish. It is a result of the mix of both cultures. — Gaston Acurio, Peruvian mega-chef and unabashed ambassador for his country’s cuisines

For more than two decades, Acurio has pushed the world to take notice of Peru’s vibrant cuisines, and to transform Lima into a culinary capital. In the process, he created a global empire of dozens of restaurants and opened a culinary school for children from impoverished areas.

For a bright color and fresh flavor, purée ¾ pound of spinach for this Peruvian Pesto. A quick simmer in a skillet takes the raw edge off the onion and spinach, giving a depth and complexity lacking in traditional raw pestos. Parmesan and a splash of cream enrich the dish, and a healthy squeeze of lime juice ties everything together.

In Peru, it is traditional to accompany the dish with potatoes and top it with fried steak or fish. Here, consider it an American take on the Peruvian variation of the Italian immigrants. Don’t be alarmed if the skillet seems very full after adding the pasta. Use tongs to gently lift and stir the noodles, and a rubber spatula to scrape the edges of the pan.

Typically we cut back on the amount of pasta in these recipes by about a third. However, I suggest using the full 12 ounces, if not a pound, because it makes a huge amount of pesto. For a finish, I squeezed the lime over the plated pasta, added a pinch of red pepper flakes and a sprinkle of finishing salt.


Peruvian Pesto

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print


  • 12 ounces linguine or fettuccine
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 small)
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • ¼ cup water
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • Kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces baby spinach (about 12 cups)
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • 2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 4 ounces queso fresco, crumbled (about 1 cup)
  • Lime wedges, to serve


  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until just tender but not fully cooked, about 2 minutes less than package directions. Drain the pasta, reserving 1½ cups of the cooking water.
  2. Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine the onion, oil, ¼ cup water, garlic and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add a third of the spinach and process until smooth, about 30 seconds. Add the remaining spinach in 2 batches, processing until smooth after each.
  3. Transfer the spinach mixture to a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring occasionally, until it begins to thicken, 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Add the reserved pasta water and return to a simmer, then add the pasta and stir to coat. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente and the pesto no longer appears watery, 3 to 5 minutes.
  5. Stir in the heavy cream. Off the heat, stir in the Parmesan, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with the queso fresco and a garnish of lime wedges. Serve with a simple side salad for a complete meal.

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