Thanks to everyone who has left a suggestion on Help Me Save My Mother! Keep them coming; just a few more and I’ll have enough to put together a pretty solid two-week diet plan to show her how good eating this way feels.
Pesto Without Basil?
Ok, who remembers You Can’t Do That On Television? If you’re a product of the 80’s like me, then you’ll understand what I mean when I say I was concerned that these photos would look like someone on that show just said “I don’t know”! But it’s pesto, and pesto is green, so get over it. And by the way, you know what I think about calorie counting, but if you’re still doing it, then just stop reading this post. Pesto is delicious and full of real, nutritious ingredients, but it’s definitely not a low-calorie food.
Up until a few years ago, I thought I didn’t like pesto. I had only had it in restaurants, and most of the time it came out thick, overly creamy, and too garlicky. Then one day I was looking for a new sauce to toss with the fresh gnocchi that I love to make, so I made some pesto from the basil in our garden. We were absolutely blown away by the fresh, bright flavors, and since then we’ve loved everything about pesto! To me, it’s summer on a plate.
I’ve tried lots of pestos made with ingredients other than the classic basil and pine nuts, and I’ve been disappointed almost every time (I suppose that’s why it’s a classic). So I was a little skeptical about this one, which uses arugula and walnuts, but pesto is so fast to make in the food processor that the risk was almost zero. Let me tell you, it was worth it.
The arugula-walnut pesto turned out light, fresh and flavorful with a surprising slight creaminess, considering there’s no cream in it. The walnut oil in the recipe can optionally be replaced by olive oil, but the walnut oil really adds a nice flavor and cuts the bitterness of the arugula. Arugula is in season, so get it at the farmers market freshest taste. We actually got bagged arugula this time since we missed the farmers market last week, but this pesto was so good that I’m going to make it again with fresh, local arugula.
We had two minor problems with this meal, both of which are easily fixable. The first problem was that it was too salty. And I love salt, so that’s saying something. The recipe was from Fine Cooking. You can get it here, but I’d recommend my revised version (with more arugula, less salt, and less cheese) that appears at the end of this post. The second problem was our fault, not the recipe’s. Without thinking, we used a 12-ounce box of pasta instead of the 16 ounces that the recipe calls for; the result was too much pesto on the pasta after we tossed it all together. Mario Batali, in Molto Italiano (one of my go-to cookbooks), says that most Americans put way too much sauce on their pasta, and that’s what happened here. Pasta is such a good, simple food, and sauce should enhance its flavor, not dominate it. Of course, if you’re using 89-cent pasta then that might not be so true. We’ve found a really good one from Hodgson Mill; its made from two ingredients–100% whole wheat flour and organic flax seed. It’s not cheap, but we rationalize it by telling ourselves how much we save by not eating meat!
This pesto is definitely a 4-cow’er out of 5. With less salt, farm-fresh arugula, and maybe homemade pasta or gnocchi, it’d be a shoo-in 5. If you think you don’t like pesto, try this, or even a basil one; just make it from scratch and keep it REAL!
Arugula Walnut Pesto Recipe
- 16 ounces whole wheat fettuccine (fresh or dried)
- 5 ounces arugula, preferably fresh from the farmers market
- 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano is best, but really expensive)
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1 clove garlic, peeled
- 1/2 tsp salt, more to taste and for pasta water
- 1/2 cup canola or olive oil
- 1/4 cup walnut oil (can optionally be replaced by olive oil)
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- Fresh-ground black pepper
- Boil water for the pasta; salt until it tastes like the sea. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.
- While the pasta cooks, combine arugula, walnuts, cheese, garlic, and lemon juice in a food processor. Process for a few seconds until coarsely ground. With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil until the mixture is almost smooth, with just a little texture. Add more salt to taste.
- Toss the pasta with the pesto and season at the table with fresh ground black pepper and more cheese if desired.