Creamy Pesto & Green Veggie Pasta
Here’s my latest creation. One of my countless attempts to replicate the creamy pesto pasta served at our wedding so many long years ago. But this night we were in the mood for veggies, pesto, and something a little bad—like heavy cream—so once again I hit the cutting board to see what I could come up with.
It all began with a basil harvest.
Even Ethan could appreciate the basil-y goodness whafting through the back yard, then porch, then kitchen as I carried armfuls of the leafy goodness into the kitchen. Basil is something we never have trouble growing.
But more on that later…there are a million pesto recipes out there and I won’t bore you with mine.
Well, until later this week or next. :)
This time I made fresh basil, but frozen works just as well for this pasta dish. The first time I made it I used five or so cubes I’d frozen last month, letting them defrost a bit before tossing them in the sauce. And, honestly, the dish turned out even better!
But this weekend was Basil Harvest so fresh stuff was on hand.
I started by boiling my pasta water with a fistful of salt. While waiting on the water, I prepared all items for the dish…this all takes about a minute to come together so being ready is key.
Once veg was chopped I threw it in the pot of water for about three minutes. Just blanching so the veg should be al dente, not soft in the slightest—I wanted them to have some crunch. Using my trusty spider(one of the most used tools in my kitchen) I submerged the bright green veggies in a waiting ice bath, stopping the cooking and preserving the brilliant color.
I poured my pasta, a mixture of orecchiette and fussili (what I had on hand to equal a pound) into the boiling water, checking it from time to time to get that perfect al dente bite.
Next up, three tablespoons of butter was melted in my sauté pan till it was foamy, just over medium heat. In went the mushrooms in a single layer—no overlapping.
“Don’t overcrowd the mushrooms or they won’t brown!” plays in my head whenever fungus is being sautéed in my kitchen. Oh how right you are Julia Child.
I actually flip them individually with tongs, officially achieving dork status. But my mushrooms are nice and toasty!
I sprinkled on a heaping spoonful of flour. After a few seconds, gently whisk the flour into the butter, making sure to avoid mutilating the ‘shrooms.
Once the flour is cooked, pour in the heavy cream, a splash of reserved pasta water, and parmesan. Stir or whisk the sauce until incorporated and smooth. Add a little more pasta water if needed.
In goes the chilled veggies, a half cup of frozen peas (you can use fresh but be sure to blanch them with the other veg), and stir to coat everything in the green goodness.
My drained pasta went into the pot and—slowly, carefully—I incorporated it into the sauce and vegetables. Using a large saute pan it key to fitting everything in. And I HATE doing extra dishes, so the plan was to only use this one.
We got the bite of the pasta, spice of the garlicky pesto, nuttiness of the creamy cheese sauce, fragrance from the basil, and crunch of the blanched vegetables. It’s like eating something that’s healthy AND bad for you all at the same time.
I like to get a really good loaf of bread, toast some slices under broiler, then rub each one with a garlic clove—seriously try it, I used to think it was nuts too.
I know I say this feeds four, but it may be more like two or three once you count second helpings, which are guaranteed.
Creamy Pesto & Green Veggie Pasta
3-4 large baby bella mushrooms, sliced
1/2 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into thirds
1 small head broccoli, cut into florets
1 pound whole wheat pasta (I love DELALLO from whole foods. Orecchiette is our favorite)
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 spoonful all purpose flour
1 cup fresh or defrosted pesto
1/2 cup reserved pasta water
3/4 cup half and half or heavy cream
1/4 cup parmesan
1/2 cup frozen peas (if fresh, blanch with broccoli and asparagus)
Handful of fresh spinach
Boil some water in a large pot and throw in a fistful of salt.
Cook pasta according to package instructions.
(This all goes pretty fast so I like to have my water boiling even before I start chopping vegetables.)
When pasta is almost a perfect al dente, add broccoli and asparagus (you can sub other veggies like green beans too!) to the boiling water for a couple minutes—no longer. Drain everything together (just don’t let the veggies sit too long before tossing in sauce…they will continue cooking).
In a large saute pan over medium heat, melt butter. Let it foam a little before adding mushrooms in an even layer, turning at least once. When mushrooms are browned, sprinkle over them a heaping spoonful of flour. Gently whisk flour into butter, scraping it off bottom of pan, making sure all flour gets cooked.
Add heavy cream and parmesan, gently whisking to incorporate. Stir in pesto plus a little pasta water to get a smooth consistency. Add chilled vegetables, frozen pea. Stir gently to cover veggies with sauce.
Toss in pasta and a large handful of spinach. Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately with crusty bread.