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Even under the least ideal circumstances, no one has to justify or explain their love of pesto. It involves basil, among the most enchanting of herbs. It’s super easy -- get the best ingredients you can, dump ‘em in the old Cuisinart and here comes dinner. And it freezes well. That’s it. End of blog.
But not so fast, because the other truth about pesto is that while its essential ingredients are few, its variations are many, and people tend to have an almost spousal relationship to a pesto recipe – they will peek at those belonging to others for amusement, but they know better than to stray from their own.
But I was quite seduced by Pretty Green Pesto, which carried me through a recent week of meals. Two things you will notice about MySocialChef’s version right away: it involves peas, and yet declines to invite garlic. The latter point was an intriguing one for me, because my pesto can sometimes be heavy on the garlic finish. And peas! Well, an Italian would probably scoff (though I am told authentic pesto often calls for green beans) but it gives his dish both a lovely texture and an interesting taste twist. Let’s just call it pea-sto, to keep the purists at bay.
I was even able to make this recipe twice -- the second time for freezing -- because Cultivating Domesticity recently informed me of how to “tent” my basil so that it lives in comfort on my counter all week long instead of fading sadly after 24 hours, a piece of news so exciting that I could not understand why it was not on the front page of my newspaper next to information pertaining to the financial bill.
So, as usual, you want to use good peas, but if all you have is frozen organic ones, I am sure you will survive. Our author wants you to toast your pine nuts -- I am not a fan of this method so I skipped it but if you are used to doing so, go ahead and do it here.
Interestingly, our chef also has you add the olive oil first (I think a nice young oil is divine here but use your best stuff, whatever it is, okay?) and then the other ingredients, which is the opposite method of my usual recipes. The addition of mint is always welcome in my pots and pans, and this recipe is no exception. He calls for spaghetti, I used penne.
Once I strained my pasta and tossed this on, it kind of melted all around the warm noodles, forming almost a pea butter in the bowl. Restraint is not my strong suit, friends, and I kept dumping more sauce on, one tablespoon at a time, until it was really something of an embarrassment and I looked around my table to see who was watching me even though I know perfectly well that there is never anyone sitting at my table observing anything I do, ever.
I also slathered this pesto on some sliced up chicken breasts (salt and pepper and nothing else before applying) for an alternative to chicken fingers. Unfortunately for my offspring, the babysitter downed them all.
Serves 4 to 8
- 2 cups frozen peas
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 bunch or 1 cup fresh basil
- 10 leaves fresh mint
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Boil a pot of water and the frozen peas and cook for 3 minutes, or until the peas are warmed through. Strain them and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking. In a pan, add the pine nuts and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. You just want to toast them until they turn a light brown. Keep stirring. Once most of them have some color, pour them into a bowl. Don’t leave them in the pan; they will keep cooking and burn. Add the oil first to a blender and add all the other ingredients and blend until smooth. Make your spaghetti (1 pound) as directed, strain and add about 3/4 of a cup of pesto. Do not cook the sauce.
By day, Jennifer Steinhauer, aka Jenny, is the Los Angeles Bureau Chief for The New York Times. By night, she is an obsessive cook.