Pesto - Easiest Meal Ever

Easy pesto recipes

I always seem to forget how much I love pesto, and what an easy dinner it makes. Put a pot of water on to boil, and by the time your pasta is done, the sauce is made and you are eating.

I came home starving tonight, and I wanted to get dinner on the table as fast as possible. I looked in my panty - mini wagon wheel pasta, done in 7 minutes, that was a winner, but what to put on it? I looked in my fridge, saw a bunch of arugula left over from pizza night, and it hit me - just make pesto.

This is so simple, I'm not even going to call it a recipe. Put a pot of water on to boil and pull out your food processor. Grab a couple of handfuls of arugula (probably three cups), grab a handful of nuts (1/4 to 1/2 cup, I would usually use pine nut but I had slivered almonds so I used those instead), grate in a bunch of cheese (I used parmigiano reggiano cause I always have it in the house, but pecorino romano would be great too), drop in a clove or two of garlic, add salt and pepper to taste, and a good glug (1/2 cup or so, if you are watching calories, you can definitely get by with less) extra virgin olive oil. Turn on the blender and let it go until you have a unified mass of thick, green deliciousness. Toss  it in a bowl, slice a bunch of cherry tomatoes and throw those in the bowl.

Once your water is boiling, liberally salt it and add your pasta. When the pasta is ready, reserve a cup of the cooking water, drain your pasta and dump the steaming pasta right onto your pesto and tomatoes. Stir to combine, using the pasta water to thin the sauce if it is too stiff or dry. Top with a little extra grated cheese and that was dinner in 15 mintes. Not bad, eh?

Pesto variations

Of course, the classic pesto everyone thinks of is basil, pine nuts, cheese and oil, but why stop there?

Play around with greens (spinach works nice, and zucchini makes a happy simple base you can add herbs to) and if I'm short on basil, I'll use basil and parsley and whatever. The process is always the same add different herbs, change up the nuts, (pine nuts and almonds are my favorites, but walnuts are nice too and I've seen people use pepitas and other seeds in the mix) have fun with the cheese. When I'm feeling in the mood, I'll also throw frozen veggies (peas are my favorite, but use whatever strikes your fancy) into the pasta pot for the last minute of two of cooking and mix those right in.

My pesto obsession right now? Almond and jalapeno. I had this for the first time this December at Amis, a Vetri restaurant in Philadelphia. They served it with bucatini and I loved it so much I immediately recreated it when I came home. It is simply blanched almonds, flesh of the jalapeno (my husband doesn't like heat, so I skipped the seeds) lots of cheese, and extra virgin olive oil. My first attempt was darn good but not quite as unctuous as I remembered from the restaurant. The next time I made it, I added butter to the mix - holy cow, yum.

Almonds and jalapenos make a creamy and unique pesto dinner.
So what about you? Are you a traditionalist when it comes to pesto, or do you like to experiment? Got any tips, ideas or suggestions?

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