Friday, October 14, 2011

Pasta with Arugula-Pecan Pesto

I was excited to see that there was a large bundle of peppery, leafy arugula in my CSA share this week, and I immediately knew what I wanted to do with it - make pesto and pour it over pasta! There was also a beautiful little head of broccoli, so that went in the dish, too.

Pesto doesn't just have to be made with basil and pine nuts. Now that summer is over, other herbs and green vegetables are showing up in my CSA shares - parsley and arugula are two that make excellent pesto sauces when combined with walnuts or pecans. This arugula was exceptionally delicious, as it was grown locally - it has a wonderful peppery bite and bright green color.

This was originally going to be arugula and walnut pesto, but I had accidentally purchased a bag of pecans instead - luckily, the pesto came out absolutely amazing using pecans instead of my intended walnuts. It was a very happy accident indeed. I did throw in the four or five walnuts I had hanging around, for good measure. Lightly toasting the nuts brings out their warm, mellow flavors and is far superior to using raw nuts of any kind.

Recipe for Whole Wheat Pasta with Arugula-Pecan Pesto and Broccoli (Makes 4 Servings):

What You Need:
  • 1 bunch fresh arugula
  • 3/4 cup toasted pecans (walnuts work great, too)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 bunch fresh broccoli, chopped into small florets
  • 12 oz. whole wheat pasta (I used spaghetti)
  • 1 cup pasta water, reserved just before draining the pasta
  • salt and pepper, to taste
How to Make It:
  1. Begin cooking the pasta according to the package directions. Remember, before you drain it, you'll want to reserve a cup of the pasta water to add to the pesto - there's good flavor in it! 
  2. Meanwhile, put the arugula, garlic, toasted nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a blender or food processor.
  3. During the last minute or so of the pasta cooking, add the broccoli and cook until the broccoli is bright green and tender. Use a mug or measuring cup to scoop out about 1 cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and set aside to keep warm.
  4. Add half of the reserved pasta water (about 1/2 cup) to the blender or food processor. Attach the lid and blend, carefully and slowly at first, until the mixture is smooth. If it seems too thick, add more of the pasta water. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
  5. Stir the pesto together with the cooked pasta and broccoli. Serve warm. Enjoy!

This meal only takes about 20-25 minutes to prepare and is very simple to make. But it still somehow manages to be rather elegant and impressive. Paired with a simply dressed salad and some toasted bread, this would be a lovely meal to serve guests - even omnivore guests, because (I swear!) they won't miss the parmesan cheese that is usually included with pesto. Aaron took a bite and thanked me for putting plenty of cheese in his portion, when in actuality I hadn't used any cheese or dairy at all. If arugula seems too frou-frou, or expensive, or difficult to find, or if you prefer a "quieter," more mellow pesto, you could easily use flat-leaf Italian parsley instead. Parsley-walnut pesto is equally delicious, just with a somewhat different personality. Either way, I hope you'll give an alternative pesto a try next time you bring out the blender!

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