Last night I had a hankering for pesto.
I fell in love with pesto during the year I spent eating my way through Italy, and my friend Gregorio taught me the simple formula for a delicious pesto out of a variety of ingredients rather than just the traditional ones.
Traditionally, pesto involves toasted and crushed pine nuts blended together with fresh basil, garlic, freshly grated Parmesano Reggiano cheese, salt, and extra virgin olive oil. Folded into steaming al dente pasta, the green mixture melts slightly, coating the pasta in a heavenly fusion of flavor.
It was Gregorio who showed me that you could make your pesto with spinach leaves as well as, or even instead of, basil, or use pistachios in place of pine nuts. I’d like to think I’ve been running amok with pestos ever since. Un bacio, mi amico.
Here was my pesto recipe last night, garlic-free because of my garlic-sensitive son, and topping spelt macaroni, which is not strictly gluten-free, but is wheat-free, which works well for us. Try Tinkyada brown rice elbows for a truly gluten-free option.
- 1/4 cup each almonds and pecans
- 1/2 bunch of kale, ripped into pieces and washed well
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Sea salt
- 4-6 oz. shredded Mozzarella cheese (I used goat’s milk mozzarella)
- Elbow macaroni, rotini, penne, or other tubular-shaped pasta
Spread nuts on a baking sheet and place in a 300 F degree oven until slightly browned and toasted-smelling. Allow to cool, then pulse in a food processor until the consistency of sandy gravel.
Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil for pasta. Drop the kale in the boiling water and boil until softened, about 5 minutes. Strain kale from water using a slotted spoon and transfer to the food processor. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. of sea salt or more to taste. Run the processor while drizzling olive oil in until it forms a runny wet paste.
Add the dry pasta to the hot water; some nutrients leached from the kale into the water may seep into the pasta, so using the same water for both is a good practice. Before draining the pasta when it reaches al dente status (firm but tender), reserve a ladle-full of the pasta water.
After draining, return the pasta to the empty water pot and add the pesto. Mix the pasta with the pesto, adding some of the reserved pasta water to help melt the cheese and spread the pesto.
Serve hot in big bowls.
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