Monday, November 2, 2009

Linguini with Tomato Pesto

This pasta is an unlikely-seeming success, but it’s very tasty and easy to throw together on a weeknight. There’s plenty of oil and cheese, but olive oil is healthy, right? There’s also tomato paste and parsley. It sounds like an odd combination, but it works really well.

The best part? It’s a no-cook sauce. You can throw the pesto together in the time it takes to boil the linguini, toss it all together, and you have a meal.

The recipe is from Quick Vegetarian Pleasures: More than 175 Fast, Delicious, and Healthy Meatless Recipes. If you’re a vegetarian or just don’t much cook with meat, I highly recommend it. My copy is tattered and sad-looking from use. One caveat: avoid her baked good recipes, which come out a bit dry. For simple vegetarian weeknight meals that come together quickly and don’t require exotic ingredients, however, it’s probably the best cookbook I own.

I’ve been making this for years, and the only major adjustment I make is adding more parmesan cheese than suggested. I’m going to give a range of cheese amounts in case you’d rather have the tomato and parsley flavors are at the forefront. I don’t measure how much fresh parsley I put in, so I’m giving a range for that, too. On occasion, I’ve gotten luxuriant bunches of fresh parsley and used so much that the dish was slightly bitter, but that’s pretty rare. I think you can safely go up to about half a cup. One final futz is the addition of a teaspoon or two of white sugar, which cuts the acidity of the raw garlic.

The recipe serves 4 as a main dish, but because there’s so much oil, this makes very nice leftovers – the pasta doesn’t get soggy at all.

Linguini with Tomato Pesto

One 16-oz package of dry linguini (I like Barilla)
½ cup good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1/4 to 1/2 cup fresh parsley
1/3 to 2/3 cup parmesan. The freshly grated nice stuff very good, but if you use the kind from the green cylinder, this will still be pretty tasty (and is what I usually do)
2 teaspoons dried or 2-3 tablespoons fresh basil – fresh is much better, so use it if you can
1 6-oz can tomato paste
about ½ teaspoon salt, to taste
pepper to taste
1-2 teaspoons white sugar (optional)
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted

Bring water to boil in a large pot. Rinse parsley and fresh basil if you have it.  Pour the olive oil into a medium bowl then mince the garlic, finely chop parsley, and finely chop fresh basil (or just chuck in the dry) and add to the olive oil. I have a mini food processor that I usually use for this step – just be careful not to chop the parsley too finely if you want to do the same.

Add tomato paste, salt, pepper, sugar, and parmesan cheese to olive oil mixture. Stir with a spoon or spatula until blended.

In the meantime, put linguini in boiling water and cooks as directed. I find it’s much easier to get the pesto to evenly mix throughout the pasta if you break the linguini in half before cooking it. I realize that’s generally a foodie no-no, but trust me: it will really make your life easier. Cook as directed, around 9 minutes for most brands of linguini.

Once the pasta is done, drain it and return to the pot. At this point add the oil-tomato pesto mixture to the pasta and stir until blended. In warm weather, you don’t need to turn the stove on at all for this step. In cold weather, I find it spreads more easily if you keep the stove on low (stirring all the while). Add pine nuts and toss until incorporated.

That’s it! This goes really well with anything you’d normally pair with pasta – garlic bread, salad, cheap red wine, etc. I particularly vouch for cheap red wine.

Printable recipe here.


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