Silk Handkerchief Pasta with Pesto.

Silk Handkerchief Pasta with Pesto (Fazzoletti di Seta).

The Italian name for this pasta, fazzoletti di seta, literally translates to ‘silk handkerchiefs’. And, it’s not difficult to understand why! These homemade large fresh pasta squares are traditionally super thin and silky, like silk handkerchiefs! Silk handkerchief pasta with pesto is the oldest Italian version of pasta with pesto.

Silk Handkerchief Pasta with Pesto (Fazzoletti di Seta).

Mandilli de Saea’

Silk handkerchief pasta, also called mandilli de saea’ in the local dialect, is a typical fazzoletti pasta from Genova, Liguria. It’s made in a similar way to lasagne and is usually paired with the local pesto Genovese (basil pesto). Although other types of pasta such as trofie are also eaten with pesto in Liguria, this silk handkerchief pasta with pesto Genovese is probably the oldest pasta and pesto recipe.

Silk Handkerchief Pasta with Pesto (Fazzoletti di Seta).

A little silk handkerchief pasta history.

Food historians say that the origin of silk handkerchief pasta is most likely linked to trade with the East. In the Middle Ages, Genova was one of the richest maritime republics in Europe. The Genovese had actually arrived in China long before Marco Polo did! From there, they established trade routes and silk was among the most traded goods. In fact, silk, its production and the commerce that ensued, enriched the coffers of the skilled Genovese traders for a long period of time.  

ingredients for silk handkerchief pasta with pesto on white plate

There’s little doubt that silk handkerchief pasta was invented during the years of Genova’s silk trade. At first, this very thin version of lasagne was seasoned with light sauces, prescinsêua cheese (a cross between yogurt and ricotta), normal ricotta and cinnamon, as well as sauces of mushrooms and hazelnuts. Then, much later, around the mid-1800s, Ligurians started to pair silk handkerchief pasta with pesto.

making pesto with a pestle and mortar
Making pesto with a pestle and mortar

Today, silk handkerchief pasta, or as the locals call it mandilli,  is increasingly rare on Genovese restaurant menus. Most probably because this pasta takes a bit of time to make and cook. The pasta squares are quite delicate and you have to cook them a few at a time. This is okay for homemade pasta meals but difficult for restaurants.

making pesto in a food processor
making pesto in a food processor

Making the pasta.

The ingredients and method for making silk handkerchief pasta are very similar to making lasagne sheets. The main difference is that the pasta squares  or fazzoletti are normally much thinner than pasta made for lasagna.

homemade basil pesto with pine nuts

We used the same combination of flour and eggs as for our lasagne. However, some recipes call for less eggs and some water or wine and olive oil instead. For example,  300 g (10.5oz) flour, 1 egg, half a cup of tepid water and a tablespoon of olive oil. And, some people make this pasta with only egg yolks.

dough for silk handkerchief pasta

As a bit of an experiment, we also made some of our handkerchief pasta with basil and parsley leaves inside the pasta sheets. This we did by placing the leaves on one side of a ready pasta sheet and covering them by folding the sheet over the leaves and then rolling the pasta out until it was pretty thin!

However, these sheets were a bit thicker than the plain fazzoletti. They were fun to make though and tasted great. But the plain silk handkerchief pasta were fabulous too!

rolled out pasta sheet with parsley and basil leaves

Making the pesto.

Traditionally, the people of Liguria make basil pesto with a pestle and mortar. However, you can also use a blender or food processor.  I often do! Alternatively crush the pine nuts with a pestle and mortar or a hammer and use a blender for the rest. But, mix the cheese in after with a fork. This gives the pesto a more authentic texture.  

rolled out pasta sheet with parsley and basil leaves

Other versions of this silk handkerchief pasta with pesto Genovese.

Some people also add green beans and potatoes to this dish like in this version with corzetti, another typical Ligurian pasta. I have also seen recipes in which they dilute the pesto with pasta cooking water to make it more of a liquidy sauce. I added pasta cooking water, but not so much.

Ready fresh silk handkerchief pasta (fazzoletti) on tray.

Let me know what you think.

Homemade pasta with homemade basil pesto is a fabulous combination of what are actually simple foods that have been enjoyed by Italians for hundreds of years.

fresh fazzoletti di seta cooking in boiling water

If you try this recipe, I’m sure you’ll love it and the fact that you made everything from scratch makes this dish not only healthier but more satisfying too!

silk handkerchief pasta with pesto fazzoletti di seta

If you do make this silk handkerchief pasta with pesto recipe (fazzoletti di seta), I’d love to hear how it turns out. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.

Your feedback means a lot to me!

Buon Appetito!

Other pesto pasta recipes.

  1. Matcha pesto
  2. Linguine with mint pesto and ricotta cream
  3. Tuna and pesto malloreddus recipe from Sardinia
  4. Roasted red pepper pesto with casarecce
Silk Handkerchief Pasta with Basil Pesto (Fazzoletti di Seta)

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Silk Handkerchief Pasta with Basil Pesto (Fazzoletti di Seta)

We had quite a few small pieces of pasta dough left after making all the fazzoletti. So, we made a serving of farfalle pasta with them.

homemade farfalle pasta
homemade farfalle with pesto
5 from 16 votes
Silk Handkerchief Pasta with Basil Pesto (Fazzoletti di Seta)
Silk Handkerchief Pasta with Basil Pesto (Fazzoletti di Seta)
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 mins

This homemade fazzoletti pasta with homemade basil pesto is a fabulous combination of what are actually simple foods that have been enjoyed by Italians for hundreds of years. If you try this authentic Italian pasta recipe, I’m sure you’ll love it. And, the fact that you made everything from scratch makes this dish not only healthier but more satisfying too!

Course: Homemade Pasta, Main Course
Cuisine: Italian, Liguria, Northern Italy
Keyword: basil pesto, fazzoletti, handkerchief pasta, homemade pasta, Liguria, mandilli, pesto, pesto pasta
Servings: 4
Calories: 684 kcal
Author: Jacqueline De Bono
For the pesto
  • 4 handfuls fresh basil leaves 60-70 g preferably young leaves (In Liguria they use Basilico Genovese D.O.P.)
  • 30 g pine nuts (1oz) I like to toast mine
  • 60 g Parmigiano Reggiano (2oz) grated
  • 60 g Pecorino Sardo (2oz) grated
  • 2-3 pinches coarse sea salt
  • 1-2 garlic cloves peeled
  • extra virgin olive oil. (as required) the best is Riviera Ligure D.O.P. This oil is sweet and fruity and enhances the aroma of the basil and seasoning
For the pasta
  • 250 g Italian '00' flour (14oz) or all purpose flour
  • 2 eggs (large)
  • 1 pinch salt
  • semolina flour for dusting
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. for cooking
Make the pesto
  1. BASIL LEAVES If it’s possible, choose medium sized young leaves (brighter green). Rinse the leaves under water and dry them with paper towels.

Basil pesto the traditional way.
  1. Peel the garlic cloves and put them into a mortar with pine nuts.  Grind until you have a paste Then add some basil leaves, and a little coarse salt, and 3 tbsp of olive oil. Keep working with the pestle, while continuing to add more basil leaves and olive oil until the pesto is smooth. Finally, transfer to a bowl, add the cheeses and stir well.

Using a blender
  1. Put all the ingredients in the blender and pulse a few seconds at a time until you have the right consistency. Don’t keep pulsing for too long at once as the blender will heat up and this can spoil the basil.

Make the handkerchief pasta (fazzoletti)
  1. If using a stand mixer sift the flour into the bowl of your kitchen mixer, break the eggs into the center with a pinch of salt and mix and knead until you have a soft dough that doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. Then turn it out onto a floured wooden pastry board and finish kneading there. If the dough seems too dry and crumbly add some tepid water.

If making dough by hand
  1. Mound your sifted flour onto a pastry board, make a well in the center and add a pinch of salt. Break the eggs into the well and whisk them a little ( you could also beat eggs in a small bowl and then add to flour). Start to incorporate the eggs and flour by slowly bringing more flour in from the inside edges of the well. You can use a fork for this. Continue mixing the flour with the eggs until they are no longer runny. Using your hands now, bring the outside edges in, forming a large mass on your board.

  2. Begin to knead the dough as you would bread, pushing it down with the heel of your hand. Continue kneading for about 7-10minutes.  Knead until the pasta dough is smooth, elastic, and just slightly tacky.You can dust the dough with more flour if it’s too sticky, but try not to add too much additional flour or the pasta will be tough. Work the dough until it is perfectly homogeneous.

  3. Cover the pasta dough (or wrap it in plastic wrap) so it does not dry out and let it rest for at least thirty minutes.

Make your fazzoletti.
  1. Cut off 1/6 of the dough. Re-wrap the rest in cling film so it doesn’t dry out and roll out the piece you cut off until it is flat enough that you can pass it through a pasta machine if you are using one.

  2. I used my pasta machine to roll out the sheets, first 3-4 times on number 6 on the dial and then a couple of times on number 4.  Then we continued to roll it even thinner on the pastry board. You want to get the pasta as thin as possible without breaking.

  3. If you aren’t using a machine you need to keep rolling out the dough until it is thin enough to see your fingers through it. Once your sheets are thin enough cut them into 15cm squares (15×15). Transfer the ready fazzoletti to a floured tray while you finish the rest. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Making parsley and basil herb fazzoletti
  1. If you want to make herb fazzoletti you just need to place some basil and parsley leaves onto one end of one of the sheets of pasta. Fold the sheet over to cover the leaves and then roll together until as thin as possible. If your pasta is too dry, the two sides of the sheet may not stick together. In this case wet around the edges with a little water before folding and rolling out.

Finish the dish.
  1. Put a pot of water onto boil for the pasta. Once it boils, add salt and a tablespoon of olive oil. Bring to the boil again. Cook the handkerchief pasta for about 4-5 minutes, 2-4 at a time depending on the size of your pot. Remove the pasta pieces from the water using a slotted spoon and then cook more of them.

  2. Mix your pesto with a little pasta cooking water until you have the consistency you want. Put some pesto in the bottom of your serving plate. Add the cooked pasta handkerchiefs and then some more pesto and pine nuts on top. Serve with extra grated parmigiano if required.

Recipe Notes

We had quite a few small pieces of pasta dough left after making all the fazzoletti. So we made a serving of farfalle pasta with them. To make farfalle cut the remaining dough pieces into small rectangles and then pinch the centre together to create farfalle pasta. If the pasta is dry, wet your fingers before pinching.

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Watch silk handkerchief pasta with pesto being made in Liguria with Pasta Grannies

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  • Avatar
    May 30, 2020 12:10 am

    This pasta dish looks so delicious, so delicious that I want it right now. And that freshly made pesto sauce, oh my! A pasta dish made in heaven for sure. I did not hear about handkerchief pasta before but I definitely want to try making it myself now.

  • Avatar
    Julie @ Running in a Skirt
    May 26, 2020 8:47 pm

    You always inspire me to try different pasta recipes! This looks and sounds incredible. I love the fresh flavors in this.

  • Avatar
    May 25, 2020 2:06 pm

    I have never made pasta before! You make it seem so easy to do! Maybe one day I’ll give it a try!

  • Avatar
    May 25, 2020 8:20 am

    Ok this pasta is just what I was looking for! It looks soo delicious and that pesto looks divine. I love how easy it is to make too.

  • Avatar
    May 25, 2020 12:10 am

    Oh how I wish I had a huge dish of this right now, I love this pasta recipe so much.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 4:56 am

      Thank you Alexis, if you make it, I would love to hear how it turns out!

  • Avatar
    Gail Montero
    May 24, 2020 11:56 pm

    This is such a show stopping main dish with this handkerchief pasta and freshly made pesto!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 4:58 am

      It is very pretty! And delicious too!

  • Avatar
    GUNJAN C Dudani
    May 23, 2020 10:11 pm

    I love the title of this recipe. Its so unique and I have never thought of anything like that. Love all the ingredients in here.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 4:59 am

      Thank you, Gunjan. The title fits the dish perfectly doesn’t it!

  • Avatar
    May 22, 2020 5:46 pm

    I haven’t made fresh pasta in such a long time and this recipe makes me want to get out the pasta roller! I love when the herbs show through the thin pasta sheets. So elegant!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:05 am

      If you don’t have a pasta roller then you can use a rolling pin!

  • Avatar
    Analida Braeger
    May 22, 2020 5:03 pm

    This dish had the most incredible flavors! My whole family loved it. I did not make the pasta but the pesto was awesome. Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:06 am

      Thank you, Analida! I am glad it was enjoyed by all!

  • Avatar
    Amy Liu Dong
    May 22, 2020 4:00 pm

    Such an amazing presentation, the looks will said it all that this is definitely a great recipe with an amazing taste that will you fall for it and will wanting more.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:10 am

      Thank you, Amy.

  • Avatar
    Geoffrey at Spoonabilities
    May 22, 2020 3:58 pm

    I never heard of handkerchief pasta. Thank you for the education. And to see you made your own…wow! I don’t think I’m up for trying this recipe, but I will certainly pull up a chair at your dinner table anytime.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:11 am

      Thank you, Geoffrey!

  • Avatar
    May 22, 2020 6:49 am

    I always love a good pesto. My brother has been really into making his own noodles. We are definitely making this tomorrow!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:12 am

      This is the perfect recipe for some sibling teamwork, Marie!

  • Avatar
    Stine Mari
    May 21, 2020 10:43 am

    I didn’t know about Genova and the trades with the East, that’s really interesting. This silk handkerchief pasta looks amazing with all the basil pesto, and I also love the name of the dish – so cute!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:16 am

      Thank you! The history of the food is ‘almost’ as enjoyable as the food itself!

  • Avatar
    Jere Cassidy
    May 21, 2020 6:12 am

    Another awesome pasta recipe that I so want to try. I love the herbs between the sheets of pasta.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:16 am

      They look beautiful, don’t they? I hope you get to try it!

  • Avatar
    Lesli Schwartz
    May 20, 2020 6:45 pm

    I’ve never heard of handkerchief pasta before, but it sure looks beautiful! You are a very skilled pasta maker, and this recipe looks amazing!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:17 am

      Thank you, Lesli, but I cannot take the credit for being a skilled pasta maker! I am sure anyone can do this at home with a little time and patience!

  • Avatar
    Bernice M Hill
    May 20, 2020 8:22 am

    How amazing is it that this pasta is a reflection of the history of the area?! So very beautiful and delicate. Some day I’d love to visit!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:18 am

      I hope you get to visit one day! There is always so much to learn about Italy, from the food!

  • Avatar
    May 20, 2020 5:47 am

    Yet again another pasta I’ve never heard of. Sure, pesto is a popular sauce here in the States, but I’ve never before heard of silk handkerchief pasta! I love that it’s called that.

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:20 am

      The name is very suitable! Obviously you can serve the pesto with your favourite pasta too!

  • Avatar
    May 20, 2020 4:17 am

    I’ve been craving pesto so this pasta is perfect for me! So delicious!

    • Avatar
      The Pasta Project
      May 25, 2020 5:20 am

      Perfect, Emily! I hope you get to have it soon!

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