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Monday, September 26, 2011

Tonight's Dinner - Walnut and Basil Pesto with Whole Wheat Pasta

I knew we were having chicken thighs tonight but not much else. When you take something out of the freezer, you kind of commit. We had a lively discussion on the way home about the fate of said chicken. Mr. Dwayne said, "Didn't you have a plan last night? I thought you said what you were going to make something - something with vegetables." I probably say a lot of things about vegetables, but I had no recollection of a plan. This was almost Easy Mu Shu Chicken. It was almost Chicken with Jam Sauce. Heck, it was almost hot dogs and chips. (Mr. Dwayne's suggestion.) In the end I opted for breaded chicken thighs with a pesto pasta side. My basil went crazy this year and it's time to harvest and make pesto for the freezer. I like walnuts for pesto because of the nutty flavor and texture. If you want to tone down the nuttiness, use pine nuts in half the quantity that I use for walnuts here.  I also think the nuttiness compliments the whole wheat pasta. Because the whole dish was nutty and chewy, Mr. Dwayne did not even notice this was whole wheat pasta until I told him.

This basic pesto recipe can be varied in numerous ways. Add more cheese or different cheese or no cheese at all. Substitute all or part of the basil for other herbs. Use nut oils instead of olive oil. The one thing I would insist upon is a goodly amount of garlic. This recipe makes enough to sauce up to a pound of pasta. It would also be delicious as a pizza topper or sandwich spread. Store left over pesto in the refrigerator in an air-tight container with a layer of olive oil covering the top. The oil will protect the basil and prevent discoloration. I've never frozen pesto before and plan to give this recipe a try. I'll let you know how it freezes once we try it out.

Walnut and Basil Pesto
3 cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup freshly grated cheese (I used a mixture of Parmesan and Romano)
2 cups basil leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Place the garlic, nuts and cheese in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely ground. Add the basil leaves and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Close and turn on the food processor and pour the olive oil slowly into the pour spout. Process until a uniform paste forms. Taste and adjust seasoning. (The amount of salt that you need to add with vary depending on the saltiness of the cheese.)

Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain well and return to hot pot. Stir in desired amount of pesto and serve immediately.

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