Thursday, September 8, 2011

P(r)esto Pasta

Here we are, rounding September, and summer has finally arrived in Portland. The past week has been uncomfortably hot, which of course makes me very happy. Summers that don’t get hot enough to complain about have no place in my heart. Hey, if you expect me to last through the next 6-8 months of rainy, grey days, is it too much to ask for a few 95 degree days in our fleeting summer?

Anyhow, this hot, sunny weather has been great for my tomatoes, which are ripening nicely on the vine. My basil, on the other hand, is not a fan of the blistering heat and was starting to droop. So, before I lost the entire crop, I decided to simply harvest the whole thing yesterday and put it to good use. Of course with this much basil, I had to make pesto. I hate store-bought pesto, since I find it bitter, oily, and overly salty. I prefer to make fresh pesto and use it up the same day, so that I don’t have to add a ton of oil to help preserve it for any length of time. I also like to add plenty of garlic to my pesto, but this does kick up the heat considerably, so it may not be for everyone.
You could put this pesto on pizza, use it as a dip for sweet potato fries or crispy arancini (recipes to follow), or toss it with some pasta, as I did, for a quick, flavorful, and healthy meal. You can use any kind of pasta for this recipe, but spaghetti-types work best in my experience. I use multigrain angel-hair pasta.

So, if you’re wondering what to do with your summer harvest of basil, do give this a try – buon appetito!

Pesto Pasta

Step 1 -- Prepare the pasta
1.5 C dry pasta, boiled in salted water till almost al dente, then washed and set aside in cold water
½ C pasta water, reserved after boiling pasta

Step 2 -- Make the pesto
6 cloves of garlic, for a spicy pesto
2 full cups of fresh basil -- I used a mix of Italian sweet basil and Mammoth basil, grown lovingly (and quite easily) from seed
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 T pine nuts (or walnuts, if you can’t find pine nuts)
2T freshly grated parmesan
½ T lemon juice
Salt to taste
Grind all these ingredients in a food processer or blender. You can add a little bit of water, if you need to, to get these ingredients ground finely. I actually use a coffee grinder, and strange as it sounds, it helps me make really smooth chutneys and sauces.

Step 3 -- Make the finished dish
1T olive oil
3 C mushrooms, quartered
1 green pepper, diced
2 summer ripe tomatoes
3 C almost-cooked pasta
Freshly ground black pepper, optional

Heat up 1T olive oil in a pan, and sauté the mushrooms
Add the green peppers and sauté
Add tomatoes, and let wilt
Toss in 3 C of cooked pasta and all the pesto. This was the right pasta to sauce ratio for my tastes.
Add the reserved pasta water and cook until pasta is fully done

Step 4 -- Dig in
Serve with freshly ground black pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice on top.


  1. Thanks foe the recipe! It sounds yummy!
    Why do you save the pasta water?

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Good question: when you cook the pasta, some of the starch gets washed into the water. This starch then helps to hold your final dish together and gives it a thicker consistency. This is one of those tips from the pros that really works!

  3. More than the recipe I enjoy the way it is written, the contents of the letter many times makes me nostalgic and the photos of all the vegetables and the presentations which are very professional....Sampath