Monday, April 15, 2013

Penne with Tomato and Almond Pesto (Pesto Alla Trapanese )

This week ended up being my ode to America's Test Kitchen. I've been revisiting some of my favorite recipes that they've put out over the years, and this is my favorite pasta dish next to their version of classic lasagna. It comes together in a snap, and is very fresh and bright. 

Normally I am not a huge pesto fan, mainly because of the amount of basil and oil used. I love basil, yet in such a concentrated form it brings out the licorice notes, and I am not a fan of licorice. There is also a lot less oil here. The juice from the grape tomatoes aides in the saucy consistency, rather than relying solely on oil.

You can really use any kind of pasta you'd prefer here - ATK recommends linguine or spaghetti, but I like to use Trader Joe's High Fiber Penne made with oat flour. I tend to shy away from whole wheat pastas since I'm not a fan of the texture. Try as I might, I can't seem to get over it. This pasta is an entirely different story - it cooks in only 6 minutes, and is light and tender with just enough firmness. It has a ton of fiber, therefore is very filling - a small plate of this with a salad for dinner is more than enough. 

This makes a large batch - plenty to feed a hungry family of 4 for dinner, or a couple of grown ups with a pasta loving toddler for a couple meals. It is so easy to make and perfectly balanced that I would bet it will become part of your weeknight meal arsenal. 

1/4 c slivered almonds
12 oz cherry or grape tomatoes
     (about 2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup packed basil leaves
1 medium garlic clove, minced
     (about 1 tsp)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
kosher salt
1/3 c extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb pasta
1 ounce grated Parmesan (about 1/2 c) + extra for serving

Place large pot of cold water with 1 tbsp kosher salt on the stove and bring to boil. Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a small skillet over medium heat, stirring frequently until they are fragrant (about 3 minutes). Set aside to cool.

Process tomatoes, basil, garlic, red pepper flakes, vinegar, cooled almonds, and 1 tsp salt until smooth (about 1 minute). After scraping down sides of bowl, slowly drizzle in oil through the feed tube with the machine running and let go for another 30 seconds. 

Add pasta to boiling water and cook till al dente, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water. Drain pasta and transfer back to pot.

Add the pesto and 1/2 cup of Parmesan to cooked pasta, adding the pasta water till the pasta is well coated with the pesto. Serve immediately with extra Parmesan on the side.

If you are more adverse to basil than myself, feel free to substitute another green. Arugula is recommended by ATK, but I've had pestos made with baby spinach greens that have been very tasty. You can also take liberty with the nuts you use. Pine nuts are a classic option, or walnuts can be a delicious variation as well.

This recipe is by America's Test Kitchen from season 10

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