Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Sundried Tomato Pesto 3 Ways

 I could easily just eat spoonfuls of this pesto on its own, but this Sundried Tomato Pesto 3 Ways can potentially apply to three different dishes -crostini, cold pasta salad and hot pasta.
Although full of fresh Italian flavors (sundried tomatoes, quality extra virgin olive oil, garlic, hot red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar), this pesto does not contained processed basil - which is actually not a required ingredient for the name. Pesto is derived from the Italian word pestare, meaning to pound or crush (think mortar and wooden pestle) and defined by the hearty consistency from its finely chopped ingredients. Sundried Tomato Pesto 3 Ways' versatility stems from both a variation of ingredients and texture flexibility, depending on whether you want to make a tapenade or a sauce.

What really make this dish is my tried-and-true secret ingredient: cottage cheese! I really like to sneak it in thicker sauces because it provides a creamy and cheesy element that is both filling and lowfat. It especially stands out in this recipe because it eliminates the need for too much olive oil- an over oily pasta salad is one of my kitchen pet peeves. The intense flavors of the sundried tomato are perfectly balanced with the mild cottage cheese, creating quite the tasty combo.

This recipe was inspired by The Pioneer Woman's Sundried Tomato Pasta Salad. I liked the idea of using tomatoes in two forms (fresh chopped and sundried pureed), and how refreshing a cold pasta salad can be on a hot day (yes I am thinking of you Thursday, 97 degrees? Really?) Another way to explore the versatility of this recipe might be to create the pesto as a tapenade for a baguette-based crostini, but make extra and thin it out with additional vinegar and olive oil to use later as a sauce for pasta.

Use the measurements in this pesto more as a suggestion; you should focus on achieving the right consistency in the food processor and that will require some flexibility. For the crostini, the pesto should be textured, choppy and free of liquid. For the cold pasta salad, aim for a thick sauce and firm veggies (you might want to blot the fresh tomatoes to rid them of extra juice before adding in.) The hot pasta variation is the only one where liquid is a good thing- feel free to sautee tomatoes and olives in chicken broth and/or white wine before adding to the dish; serve with a generous slice of Italian bread to sop up the broth.

Sundried Tomato Pesto 3 Ways
Yield: 2 cups; serves 8 with pasta

1 1/2 cups sundried tomatoes - if using oil-packed, skip adding additional olive oil and the pre-processing soaking in the directions)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup lowfat or nonfat cottage cheese
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes 
salt & pepper to taste

8 oz pasta (corkscrew or penne, fettuccine can be used for the warm pasta)
3/4 cup chopped, pitted olives (green, black or mixed)
1 large tomato
10 basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/8 cup chicken broth and/or white wine (warm pasta)
1/3 cup walnuts (crostini)
1 french baguette (crostini)
Parmesan Cheese (optional)

1. Soak sundried tomatoes in warm water for 20 minutes. Discard water. Combine sundried tomatoes, garlic, cottage cheese, red pepper flakes, salt & pepper, and walnuts (optional) in a food processor. Drizzle in olive oil and vinegar (start with 1/8 cup of each and work your way up to make sure the pesto does not get too liquidy.)
2. Serve on top of  1 1/2 inch slices of toasted baguette; garnish with finely chopped olives and parsley.

Cold Pasta Salad: 
1. Cook pasta according to package directions, but add the sundried tomatoes to the pot of water before bringing to a boil. When water boils, remove sundried tomatoes with a slotted spoon. Combine with rest of pesto ingredients in a food processor while pasta cooks.
2. Drain pasta and rinse with cold water until no longer hot. Combine pasta and pesto in a large bowl.
3. Chop the fresh tomato, olives, parsley and basil. Add to bowl and mix until salad is thoroughly combined. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese (optional.)

Hot Pasta:
1. Cook pasta al dente, but add the sundried tomatoes to the pot of water before bringing to a boil. When water boils, remove sundried tomatoes with a slotted spoon. Combine with rest of pesto ingredients in a food processor while pasta cooks.
2. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Chop tomato and olives and add them to the saucepan for 1 minute. Add chicken broth and/or white wine until liquid begins to boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.
3. Drain the al dente pasta and add back into the saucepan, along with pesto. Mix together and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Remove from heat and toss with chopped parsley, basil, and Parmesan cheese (optional).

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