Thursday, June 3, 2010

Parsley-Pesto Pasta

Remember back in the '80s, when pesto was the height of worldly, sophisticated cuisine and – perhaps not coincidentally -- Cuisinarts were high-end, cutting-edge technology? Nowadays, pesto is an everyday all-'Merickan dish*, and it is ridiculously quick and easy enough to make any weeknight, especially if you have one of them thar no-longer-so-newfangled food processors. It's so versatile (and keeps for so long) that it's worth having a batch in your fridge as a go-to for pasta, salads, and sandwiches.

As with hummus, you can easily make and store massive quantities of pesto on the cheap with just a whirl of the aforementioned processor (or a blender/immersion blender), as opposed to spending $5 on that 8-ounce plastic package that contains Lord knows how much sodium and what kind of preservatives. And there are plenty of even cheaper variations on the classic basil-and-pine-nut variety, like the nutless parsley-based version I made last night. I used cheese tortellini and added some diced tomatoes and yellow pepper (pictured), but you could skip those and/or add anything else you like.

While my pasta water was boiling, I took a bunch of parsley and ripped off the stems, then cleaned it in cold water. (Don't just run parsley, basil, or other leafy herbs under water -- let them float in a big bowl of water, and keep changing the water until you see no grit at the bottom. Yes, nobody wants to waste water, but you really don't want to bite into a mouthful of dirt and then waste your entire pesto dish.)

I put the parsley in the food processor, along with a few peeled garlic cloves, about a tablespoon of red pepper flakes, the juice of half a lemon, and salt and pepper. I didn't use pine nuts, but you could throw in a handful of these or of walnuts.

I turned on the processor and drizzled olive oil through the drip chute while it was running, until the mixture was completely pureed. Go slow with the olive oil, because you can add more but you can't take it away.

Grate in some Parmesan to taste (or don't if you're some kind of weirdbeard vegan, whatever), then taste the pesto and see if it needs more of any ingredient(s). Once you've adjusted your flavors, just let it sit until the pasta is cooked. Then, drain and toss your pasta with a couple tablespoons or so of pesto (again, the "you can add but not remove" rule applies here). Boom, you're done.

This makes an insanely easy summer dinner, either on its own or with salad and garlic bread. And it works equally well as a pasta salad -- great for picnics and cookouts since there's no mayo. You can mix in tomatoes, diced pepper, ham, white beans, what have you. Again, this recipe makes a lot, and you can keep a jar on hand to use as a salad dressing, a dip for veggies (alone or with mayo), a sandwich spread, or a marinade for chicken or fish, as well as a pasta sauce.

You can keep a jar of surplus pesto (I suggest washing out empty containers of mustard, molasses, etc., and saving them for your DIY condiments; you can also use Tupperware-type plastic containers) in the fridge for weeks. After you transfer it to the jar, pour some olive oil over it so a layer just covers the surface. This will keep the pesto from contacting air, oxidizing, and turning brown. You can also freeze pesto, but in that case you're better off not adding Parmesan until you defrost it. (Dairy, freezing, molecules, something. What do I look like, Mr. Wizard?)

Thus, in conclusion: While I'm nostalgic for Wham!, C. Thomas Howell, Madonna's body fat, and almost every other aspect of the '80s, the elitism of pesto is one cultural moment I'm glad we've evolved out of.

* Granted, my grandmother in Wisconsin did ask what pesto was when she saw it on the Olive Garden menu. However, this is not Wisconsin Girls Cooking, and in Brooklyn, pesto is as 'Merickan as Nathan's hot dogs. [Back to main text]


  1. "Go slow with the olive oil, because you can add more but you can't take it away."

    That was always my policy with LSD!

    Did you know the original pesto was cilantro pesto, but cilantro fell out of favor in the Renaissance?

  2. Did not know that about cilantro but a great variation to try! And I think we can all agree that the "go slow" rule should be applied to seasoning and psychedelics alike.

  3. i just want to second the "let them float in a big bowl of water, and keep changing the water until you see no grit at the bottom" recommendation. i full up my salad spinner with water, drain, spin, and repeat at least 3 times when dealing with gritty herbs, especially when you get those full basil plants (with roots) from the grocery store