I didn’t grow up eating traditional Italian pasta. Any form of pasta we had at home was often spoonfuls of alfredo cream from a jar that made it hard to differentiate whether it was alfredo soup or sauce with pasta noodles. My mom really loves her sauce, on everything, not just Italian food and so we grew up thinking this was the norm. (While totally non-traditional Italian food, to my parents credit, we did go through a stage where we made fancy pasta noodles from a white plastic noodle appliance!)
So, “real” Italian pasta doesn’t sometimes hit the spot for me because it’s not what I grew up enjoying (hopefully that doesn’t offend anyone). But, what DrJuh and I realized in Korea was that we really loved Korean-Italian fusion pasta. Understanding it’s not the real thing, when we visited Korea I enjoyed how familiar Asian flavors were infused into Italian ingredients. Overall, Korea loves putting a twist on Italian foods like adding sweet potato mousse on pizza, or adding some gochujang (Korean chili paste) to a cream based sauce. The combinations don’t sound like they will work, but they work. I had Korean-Italian pasta on our visit to Korea three + times and I just couldn’t get enough!
Today’s pasta is perilla pesto pasta. If you’re not familiar with perilla (kkaennip), it’s often served on the side to eat with Korean BBQ or thinly sliced to be topped on certain Korean stews. It’s also often enjoyed pickled as a delicious side dish and is similar to shiso in Japan. It has a distinct flavor that can be a excellent accent to a dish. This makes it the perfect green to blend the Asian and Italian flavors. The recipe follows very similarly with pesto sauce. Depending on how you like your pesto, you can experiment the ratio of garlic/cheese/pine nuts. I used slightly less cheese and pine nuts to let the kkaennip flavor shine. The sauce tastes even better the next day once it’s had time to sit together.
Perilla Pesto Pasta: Serves 4 Pasta Servings
Perilla Pesto Sauce
- 25-30 medium to large perilla leaves (about 45 g)
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Romano or Parmesan-Reggiano cheese (about 1 ⅓ ounce)
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves, minced (about 3 teaspoons)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt, more to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste
- 1 lb (450 g) uncooked pasta (spaghetti, linguine, anything of your choice)
- 4 cloves of garlic, sliced
- 3-4 Tbsp of oil
- Parmesan cheese for topping
Perilla Pesto Sauce
1. Cut the stems of the perilla leaves off and chop into large pieces. Lightly toast the pine nuts. (Bake them in 350 degrees F for about 8 minutes or lightly toast them with no oil on a non-stick frypan for a few minutes until fragrant).
2. Add the perilla leaves and pine nuts into a food processor and pulse several times.
3. Add the cheese and garlic and pulse a few more times.
4. Slowly add in the olive oil as the food processor is running. Scrape down the sides of the food processor with a spatula. Continue to mix in the food processor until the sauce comes together.
5. Add in the salt and black pepper. Run the mixer one more time.
*If using a mixer, add in all ingredients, including the olive oil at once and run the mixer until well combined. If it feels hard to mix, you can add a little bit more olive oil.
If not using immediately, store in a airtight container.
For Pasta – 4 servings
6. Boil water in a large pot with a pinch of salt. When the water begins to boil, add in the pasta noodles and boil for about 7-8 minutes (or according to the package). Slightly al dente.
7. While the pasta is cooking, heat a medium sized pan with about 3-4 Tbsp of olive oil. Add in the sliced 4 cloves of garlic and lightly toast until the garlic aroma fills the room.
8. Once the pasta is done. Toss the al dente pasta into the frypan. Add a few Tbsp of pasta water into the frypan so the noodles don’t get hard and stick to each other. Add in the pesto sauce and toss well. You can start with about ¾ of the pesto sauce but continue to add for more flavor.
9. Plate onto 4 pretty plates. Top with a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.
*The pasta works well with shrimp and chicken as well. Because of the Asian like flavors, I liked to have spam and kimchi on the side (not in the pasta!)
*The pesto sauce can also be used to be spread on sandwiches or with crackers.