I was 23 when I tried pesto for the first time. I know that because it was my first year teaching and I remember my supervisor talking about how much her daughters loved pesto, which they called “green noodles”. I had heard of pesto but had no idea what it was, so I went home that night and looked it up in my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, the only cookbook that I had at the time that I actually used because the others were ridiculous “cooking for two” cookbooks with really, really stupid recipes. Cringe.
Anyway, I wasn’t a huge fan of basil at the time (huh?) but there was an alternative recipe for spinach pesto and that sounded all right to me! So…I went out and picked up a mini food processor. God help me, I bought a Toastmaster mini-processor that cost $13 (I am NOT KIDDING) and every time I used it something broke off of it because it was so difficult to get the top on and off. I remember standing in our tiny galley-style apartment kitchen, both of us tasting pine nuts and making a face because eewwwww. Again, I don’t even know who we were back then….we love pine nuts now! Still, I dutifully blended them into the smooth green puree that we tossed with some sort of pasta (probably angel hair because back in those days that’s about all we bought!). And then we fell in love.
I’ve made pesto with basil and while I love basil now, I have never cared much for basil pesto; maybe I just like my spinach pesto too much. I’ve made it with other dark greens but none of them necessarily bowled me over…but for some reason I’ve never made it with arugula. Until this week. That’s an omission I won’t make again. While of course I’ll still make my mainstay spinach pesto, I’ll be sure to make this spicy, peppery arugula pesto from time to time….though I will warn you, the flavor is very strong, which is why I tempered it with a creamy sauce to tone down the peppery overtones of the arugula.
Pesto is great in so many applications…of course, there’s the obvious pasta toss or pizza sauce. However, pesto is great to brush on fish or chicken. It’s amazing to toss vegetables-especially roasted potatoes or green beans-in. It goes famously whisked into a vinaigrette dressing. It’s a wonderful sandwich spread and amazing on bruschetta. It’s so versatile.
One other thing: pesto usually contains parmesan cheese but I usually leave it out. Pesto freezes wonderfully but does so better without the cheese (just parse it into ice trays, freeze, then pop into freezer bags and grab a few when you need them) so I just add the cheese to the dish I’m using it in. Try it out-with arugula or with spinach. If you’re anything like me, you’ll love it and make it over and over! And as for alfredo sauce, please promise me that you’ll make it yourself just once. If you’ve been pouring it from a jar that you bought in the pasta aisle (which I used to do a lot more than I’d like to admit!), you may change your mind about that practice. Homemade alfredo sauce is simple as can be and tastes better than jarred sauce ever thought about tasting. I promise.
|Prep time||10 minutes|
|From book||Adapted from The Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook|
- 2 cups arugula (firmly packed)
- 1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup pine nuts (lightly toasted)
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (optional-I leave it out when so that I can freeze my pesto and just add it to my finished dish)
- 3-4 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- salt (to taste)
For a milder flavor, use spinach to make this recipe....as I often do!
|Place all ingredients except the olive oil into the bowl of a food processor (you can also use a blender but it will take more work scraping down the contents of the bowl). Blend until finely chopped.|
|Scrape down the sides of the bowl and replace the top of the processor. With the machine running, pour the olive oil in the feed tube. Blend until smooth. You can serve immediately or refrigerate/freeze to use later.|
Linguine Alfredo with Mushrooms and Arugula Pesto
|Prep time||5 minutes|
|Cook time||20 minutes|
|Total time||25 minutes|
|Allergy||Milk, Tree Nuts|
|Meal type||Main Dish|
|From book||Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook|
- 10-12oz linguine (depending on how large you like your servings)
- 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8oz white or cremini mushrooms (sliced or quartered)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- salt (to taste)
- parmesan cheese (to taste)
- 4 tablespoons arugula pesto (optional)
|Cook pasta according to package directions.|
|While the pasta is cooking, sauté the mushrooms in the butter over medium heat in a 12-inch pan until golden.|
|Add the heavy cream to the pan with the mushrooms (you can also remove the mushrooms from the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving the butter in the pan, and use it to top the pasta before serving; this is actually what I did). Bring to a simmer and cook for 2-3 minutes to reduce. Salt to taste.|
|Drain the linguine, reserving a cup of the starchy cooking liquid. Put the linguine back into its cooking pot and pour the reduced sauce over the pasta. Stir to combine. If the sauce is too thick, set over medium heat and cook for 2-3 minutes to reduce the sauce. If the sauce is too thin, add the pasta water a little at a time to achieve the desired thickness.|
|If desired, add grated parmesan at this time. Divide between 4 bowls and top each bowl with a tablespoon of pesto (if using) as well as additional cheese and the mushrooms if you reserved them. Serve immediately.|