Pistachio Pesto Pasta

Aunt Suzy says . . .

I saw this recipe in a recent Bon Appetit and thought it fit right in to our Pasta Wednesday theme – easy, throw together quickly, healthy and delicious – even if it is hard to say!  It reminded me of another no-cook pasta sauce we posted a couple of years ago that had a variety of nuts but basically the same approach.  This recipe is a little less fancy, qualifying it for a perfect weeknight meal.  I love cooking with mint and nuts which are ubiquitous ingredients in Sicilian cooking.  (I must take a trip there one day.)  The quantities listed made a lot of pesto so I had a chance to experiment with different pastas.  I had it as a main dish on bow-tie pasta served with a salad.  I served, as you see in the photo, as a side dish to salmon. While  I liked it both ways, it’s very rich so I thought is was better as a side dish.  An Italian white wine is a perfect match, even better if you can find one from Sicily where they are a little on the richer side.

1/2 pound pasta makes 3 main and 4 side servings

1 cup roasted pistachios, shelled

3/4 cup diced plum tomato (2 tomatoes)

1 large garlic clove or 2 small

a handful of fresh mint leaves

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste

a handful of grated Parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon EV olive oil

1/2-1 pound dried pasta, whole wheat recommended

Pulse the first 6 ingredients in a food processor until coarsely pureed.  Turn into a bowl and add the olive oil.  Stir until creamy, a bit like chunky peanut butter.  Cook the pasta to al dente according to package directions.  Before draining the pasta, reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water.  Drain and rinse the pasta.  Return to the pot and add 1/2 cup of the pesto per 1/2 pound pasta.  Add a little of the pasta water and stir to blend thoroughly.  Add enough of the pasta water to make a creamy sauce.  Keep on the heat to heat through before serving.

NOTE:  The pesto can be refrigerated and used at a later date or used as a sandwich spread.

Aunt Suzy says

This recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, The Italian Country Table by Lynn Rossetto Kasper.  It’s another no-cook pasta sauce recipe, although not quite as fast and easy as the one we recently posted.  I love cooking with mint and this recipe blends mint and 3 kinds of nuts into a course pesto that is just delicious.  I just peeked into the cookbook before writing this post and saw that the original recipe uses string pasta of some sort (linguine, spaghetti or buccatini).  I recall the first time I made it, I decided that I would use small pasta shapes in the future.  But I would not dissuade anyone from making it with string-style pasta!  As with a lot of these fresh pasta dishes, it goes really well with a flavorful pinot grigio or a dry rose wine.

Margaux says

I just made this dish last night, and it was fantastic!!  I love the nutty flavor of the pesto, and the freshness of the mint!  And super easy, like Suzy says.  I think it would also be good served with some grilled salmon or chicken, especially if you’re feeding more than 4 people.  We had it with a simple green salad, and it was a perfect summer dinner!

The Pesto

1/2 cup whole almonds, toasted

1/2 cup shelled salted pistachio nuts, toasted

1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted

1 1/2 cups fresh mint leaves

1-2 cloves garlic

pinch (or more!) hot red pepper flakes

3 tablespoons EV olive oil

Mix the cooled toasted nuts.  Coarsely chop about 1/4 of the nuts and set aside.  Process the remaining nuts, the mint, garlic and red pepper in a food processor to a very coarse meal texture.  Slowly add the olive oil and process until blended and a little smoother.  This will not be as creamy as a classic basil pesto.  NOTE:  I have a mini-Cuisinart and recommend to first chop the nuts before processing with the rest of the ingredients if that is what you will use.  It had a hard time with all those whole nuts!

The No-Cook Sauce and Pasta

1 pound small pasta (fusilli, cavatappi, penne, etc.)

3/4 cup of the pasta cooking water

3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered OR 3 1/2 cups seeded and chopped large tomatoes

The mint pesto

The reserved chopped nuts

1/4 cup sliced mint leaves (if large)

Cook the pasta according to directions, reserve 3/4 cup of the cooking water after done and then drain the pasta.  Return the pasta to the cooking pot and toss with the pesto, adding enough cooking liquid to make a creamy sauce.  Add a little at a time to make sure it doesn’t go beyond creamy to runny.  Toss with the tomatoes and stir to blend.  Toss in the chopped nuts and mint for garnish.

Aunt Suzy says

My favorite new discovery is food writer Francis Lam on Salon.com.  Not all his spots include recipes, but all are interesting. The minute I saw his column last Friday I knew I had to bunny-hop down to the farmer’s market on Saturday to get ingredients.  All I needed was arugula, tomatoes and shallots.  I was thinking that it might be too late in the season for arugula, but the great growers of Burning River Farm came through.  I was shocked to see home grown shallots (from another vendor);  I was fully prepared to have to buy them from a store.  I was able to get all three fresh ingredients required for this simple, elegant and beautiful dish. Randy and I ate the entire recipe, which I think was supposed to serve four!  It paired beautifully with a rich Spanish rose wine.   A note about the pasta – I thought from experience that we should be using small pasta shapes of some sort like fusilli or penne, but I’m glad I followed the recipe and used linguine.  It was perfect and fun to eat.  On another note, I heartily recommend reading the original column – link above – it was fun to read and made my mouth water! (August 2011 addendum – Francis is no longer at Salon, but is now at another food site Gilt Taste, where he posted an article about this recipe.)

Margaux says

Making dinner while entertaining a 19 month old is quite a challenge, so I’m always looking for fast and easy…but I don’t want to compromise on flavor!!  This is another winner for me because it took no time at all to make, and it was delicious.  I agree with Suzy that I was going against what I know about pasta by using spaghetti instead of pasta pieces for this dish, but in the end I was glad I followed the recipe!

2 1/2 pounds ripe summer tomatoes (a variety is nice, but good old red farm-stand or garden tomatoes will be just fine)

2-3 handfuls of baby arugula (we added about 3 cups)

thinly sliced shallot or shaved onion

3/4-1 pound spaghetti or linguine, depending on what pasta to veggies ratio you want (we used 3/4 lb linguine)

1 cup grated Parmegiano (the recipe said optional, but I don’t think so :-))

olive oil, salt and pepper

Seed and chop the tomatoes into chunks.  Place in a large bowl – large enough to hold everything including the cooked pasta and with enough room to toss vigorously.  Sprinkle with some olive oil, then salt and pepper to taste.  Place the arugula on top and then the sliced shallots or shaved onion.  (the shallots were fab!)

In the meantime, the spaghetti or linguine should be cooking away – or at least the water should be at the boiling point when you’ve finished setting up your bowl of vegetables.  Cook the pasta in salted water till al dente according to package directions.  When finished cooking, drain and then dump the drained pasta on top of the vegetables.  Press down a little and dowse with olive oil.  Let sit 3 minutes for the arugula to wilt and the shallots or onions to soften up a bit.  After the 3 minute timer goes off, toss a little to blend and then add the Parmegiano and toss away to thoroughly blend the cheese in and distribute the ingredients throughout the dish.  The recipe said to add some red wine vinegar if you want, but we thought it was perfect without.