Tuesday, August 26, 2008
There are some foods that no matter how delicious, are just plain ugly. This is an unfortunate fact for certain foods that get a bad rap based solely on their less than appetizing appearance. One dish that fills this description for me is pesto. For years I told myself that I hated it, that I just couldn't stand all that basil, that even the smell of it was nauseating. This wasn't entirely true, of course, I was just making excuses for not finding the herby sauce particularly appealing visually. It's rare that I'll just be turned off by a dish without actually trying it, but something about the way everything pesto touches turns green put me off from a young age.
But over the last few years, as my days are increasingly filled with grab and go lunches, no cook dinners and salad bars, I've come to look at pesto differently. Granted, there have been some unbalanced atrocities that continued to put me off from it, but in general, I've come to see pesto as a delicious time-saver. It's a no-cook no-brainer, since all you need is a food processor (even a mini processor will do) to put it all together. And it works on more than just pasta. You can make a pesto potato salad without ever having to heat it up, or you can just toss leftover vegetables in pesto, drizzle it over leftover chicken, mix it into dressing or soups, and even use it as a dip.
The most recent dish I made with pesto is a super simple one pot meal that has everything in it but the kitchen sink. Instead of just tossing pasta with pesto (which is a super easy dinner for a busy week), I added a few potatoes to the pasta pot and blanched a few yellow sting beans towards the end of the cooking process. That way I only dirtied one pot, but cooked three ingredients at once. If you've never tried a pasta dish with potatoes in it (I know it seem like carb overload) you really should. It's a great change in texture, especially with the crunchy yellow wax beans in there for some toothy bite. Tossed in a bowl with some fresh pesto, it was a tremendously easy dish. And if you want even less clean-up, try making the pesto ahead of time without the Parmesan cheese in it and freezing it (you can even freeze it in an ice cube tray). That way, all you have to do on a busy night is boil your pasta and veggies and heat the sauce up (or you could defrost it during the day), then add the Parmesan. Here's what I did:
Pasta, Potatoes and Yellow Beans with Pesto
1/2 lb dry pasta
2 large (or 3-4 small) potatoes, peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes
Handful of yellow wax beans (about 15), ends trimmed, cut into thirds
1/2 cup pesto sauce (mine was frozen from a previous recipe)
1. Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente, along with the potatoes (they both usually take about 10-12 minutes).
2. Add string beans to pot during the last 5 minutes and blanch until tender-crisp. Drain everything (reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid) and combine with pesto sauce. Add a little pasta water if necessary to thin out sauce. Enjoy!