The Tale of Two Pestos
Since we live in a townhouse and do not have our own yard, I bought a mini basil plant that I can keep on the counter so I can “grow” at least one fresh herb. The first two ideas that came to mind when I thought of basil recipes were pesto and strawberry-basil ice cream – I am not sure why I thought of ice cream of all things…I do enjoy unusual flavor combos.
I didn’t have the ingredients needed for ice cream so I went for pesto, after all, I have been craving pasta lately! I recently caught an episode of Giada at Home where she made a California-style pasta dish of Linguine with Arugula and Avocado Pesto and I couldn’t wait to put my own spin on it. However, I also had been thinking about a sun-dried tomato version as well since the arrival of my NutsOnline order…I couldn’t decide which to make. Instead of choosing between the two, I couldn’t help but make both 🙂 That’s right, you have two extremely quick and easy recipes to choose from today!
If pasta isn’t your thing, substitute cooked spaghetti squash or you can use these pestos as pizza sauce, sandwich spreads, dressing for cooked veggies or over grilled chicken or shrimp! Both dishes are vegetarian but for a more complete meal and to increase the protein, add grilled chicken, shrimp or cooked vegetables to your pasta.
First up was my take on Giada’s dish — I was completely intrigued with the idea of an oil-free pesto and was in the mood for a summer meal, and this quick pesto hit the spot. I used a mix of both spinach and arugula, added toasted pine nuts instead of almonds and halved the recipe. Just a few tips for this dish, make sure you use baby arugula leaves or your pesto will taste bitter and don’t forget to wash your basil leaves to avoid a gritty texture. This creamy pesto has a brightness from the lime juice and basil, a lovely saltiness from the cheese and a great peppery kick from the arugula. If you prefer a more traditional pesto flavor, drizzle in a bit of olive oil. For me, I didn’t add any oil as the avocado added the right amount of richness for my taste buds.
I had a bit of leftover pesto after tossing with pasta and it kept for two days in the fridge, it maintains its green hue and was a delicious spread on my turkey sandwich for lunch 🙂
Creamy Avocado Pesto with Spinach and Arugula (adapted from this recipe)
1 ripe medium avocado, halved, peeled, and seeded
1 cup baby spinach leaves
1 cup baby arugula leaves
1/2 packed cup fresh basil leaves, washed
1 1/2 to 2 Tbsp fresh lime juice (about one lime, you could probably use lemon juice as well)
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp to 1/4 cup lightly toasted pinenuts (or could sub sliced almonds)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 lb pasta of choice (I used gluten free rice pasta)
Toasted pine nuts
Additional grated parmesan
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according the package’s instructions or until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Drain and reserve about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Place drained pasta in a serving bowl.
2. While pasta cooks, use a spoon and scoop out the flesh from the avocado and place in a food processor. Add the spinach, arugula, basil leaves, lime juice, garlic, pine nuts, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.
3. Pour the pesto over the pasta and toss together. Add the cheese and toss together until coated, adding the pasta water a little at a time as needed, to loosen the sauce (I only needed a couple tablespoons). Garnish with additional cheese, pine nuts and basil, if desired, and enjoy!
For the second pesto recipe, I couldn’t wait to use incorporate the delicious sun-dried tomatoes that I received a week ago! These tomatoes have such a wonderful sweetness that pairs perfectly with fresh garlic, basil and good-quality olive oil. I made mine a little chunky on purpose so I could use it as a spread as well as a sauce, so feel free to add more olive oil for a more saucy consistency or to your liking. I took the tip from the above recipe and reserved a bit of pasta water as well to help moisten the pasta.
This pesto tossed with your choice of pasta is great served on it’s own or can be tossed with sauteed veggies and meat of choice for a substantial dinner or even as an impressive but simple side dish. You can serve with spaghetti squash instead of pasta if you’d like a low-carb option as well!
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes (not packed in oil, but need to be moist*)
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 to 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, optional
1/2 tsp sea salt, more or less to taste
1/2 cup packed fresh basil leaves, washed
4 Tbsp olive oil or more to taste
1-2 Tbsp boiling water
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Pasta of choice (about 8 oz) – I used gluten free egg pasta this time!
Grated parmesan cheese
Chopped sun-dried tomatoes
1. Cook the pasta according the package instructions in a large pot of salted, boiling water, until tender but still has a bite to it, stirring occasionally. Drain and reserve about 1/2 cup of pasta water for tossing. Add cooked pasta to bowl and set aside.
2. While pasta cooks, add ingredients sun-dried tomatoes through water to bowl of a food processor and process until the tomatoes are finely chopped and resembles a paste consistency. Add tomato mixture into a small bowl and stir in the parmesan until incorporated.
3. Add the pesto to the cooked pasta and toss to coat, adding reserved pasta water a little at a time to reach desired consistency (I used a couple tablespoons). Add additional crushed pepper and/or salt, if needed. Garnish with basil leaves, additional cheese and chopped tomatoes, if desired, and enjoy!
*If your sun-dried tomatoes are really dry, pour boiling water over them to slightly rehydrate before adding to food processor.
I enjoyed both so much, I can’t decide which I preferred more. I would say that if you are looking for a more traditional-tasting pesto, the tomato version would be your best bet but the avocado-arugula dish was unique – so fresh and delicious as well!