Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Linguine with Leeks and Walnut Pesto

I have a confession...I don't like basil pesto. (To date, I have not met one person who shares this opinion.) I think its an aversion from a bad experience I had with food poisoning when I was little, but pureed basil just doesn't do it for me. However, I love the consistency of a pesto, and recognize a hearty, hit-the-spot pasta dish when I see one. We all get those cravings for a heaping bowl of pasta sometimes, and the leek-walnut-Parmesan combination in this dish is a really interesting and flavorful variation from your typical pasta combinations.

The original recipe for Linguine with Leeks and Walnut Pesto from Epicurious was a bit too calorie-dense for my liking. To lighten it up, I shrank the pasta-to-person ratio from 2 servings to 1.5, used whole-wheat linguine and halved the olive oil. Feel free to substitute the radicchio for any other green or vegetable: I tossed in some diced sweet potato, but eggplant, zucchini, or arugula would also be good in this dish.

Anthony Bourdain's (courtesy of chef Scott Conant) Secret to the perfect pasta: "I take a single portion of pasta cooked just shy of al dente and add it to a saute pan that holds a single portion of hot, bubbling...sauce."
"I do this to look cool. Just kidding. The real reason is that this technique not only coats the pasta evenly with the sauce, but also introduces a little air into the process making the dish feel lighter and brighter."

Linguine with Leeks and Walnut Pesto
Yield: 2 servings Prep Time: 30 Minutes  Active Time: 30 Minutes

6 oz linguine
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided 
4 cups thinly sliced leeks
1/2 cup (loosely packed) fresh Italian parsley leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup walnut pieces, toasted
juice of 1 lemon
1 garlic clove, minced
2 cups thinly sliced radicchio, loosely packed arugula, or diced roasted sweet potato/eggplant/zucchini
salt & pepper to taste
optional: hot red pepper flakes

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water just shy of al dente.
While pasta cooks, heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add leeks (plus additional vegetables- if using radicchio or arugula, add at the end.)  Cover; cook until tender and beginning to brown, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Puree parsley, Parmesan, walnuts, lemon juice, garlic, and 1 tablespoon oil in a mini processor until coarse puree forms. Season pesto with salt and pepper.
Drain pasta- keeping 1 tablespoon cooking liquid- and add to vegetable skillet, turning the heat to low. Add pesto to the skillet and toss gently, lifting the pasta high above the bottom of the pot, for a few minutes. Garnish with salt & pepper to taste; additional chopped walnuts, shaved Parmesan, and red pepper flakes if desired. Serve hot with a glass of your favorite wine.

How to cook pasta:

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