Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Creamy Pesto

We have been so consumed with household matters lately that we've barely paused to consume anything of interest. We've eaten, of course; but, after spending the better part of the past two weeks purging our attic of unnecessaries -- and converting a former "junk" room into a welcoming guest bedroom -- we've been too pooped to feel inspired in the kitchen.

Thankfully, Tim took a much needed break Sunday afternoon to visit the State Farmer's Market. We've ignored this year-round resource lately in favor of the many local markets that have mushroomed in our area. Too busy to visit our regular vendors on Saturday, he went downtown expecting to return with nothing but the basics. Instead, he brought home deep green Asian long beans, heavy Cherokee Purple tomatoes, several varieties of tender eggplant, and a big bag of fragrant basil leaves.

Basil may not sound like a big deal, but our once-endless supply was yanked a few weeks ago after wilting in record-breaking summer heat. It provided the perfect excuse to make one of the simplest, practically no-measure recipes in our repertoire: Creamy pesto, a concoction that turns low-fat cottage cheese into a deceptively rich sauce.

This is not for pesto purists, who may consider it a culinary catastrophe. We truly don't measure when we make this family favorite, which is highly tweakable based on what's in your pantry. Don't have pine nuts? Try walnuts. Tastes too green? Try some lemon zest and/or squeeze of juice. If you like it hot, add some chili flakes.

This is one of those sauces easily assembled by eyeball and taste, so be bold. It takes less time to prepare than to cook the pasta. Be sure to save some pasta water to finish sauce; keep a little on the side in case you have leftovers as a splash will help with reheating. If you wind up with more sauce than you need for the pasta, save the extra to smear on grilled or roasted salmon or chicken, or add to ground meat for awesome burgers.

Add your favorite pasta to salted boiling water. Cook as directed, omitting oil or butter.

Toast about 1/4 cup pine nuts in a dry pan until fragrant and just starting to brown. Set aside to cool.

Chunk a thick, 2-inch piece of aged paremesean, preferrably Reggiano, and add it to workbowl. Pulse until well chopped but not powdery. Set aside.

Drop one large clove of garlic, a good pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper in workbowl of food processor; whirl until coarsely chopped.

Rinse and pat dry a large bunch of basil (about 2-3 cups, loosely packed); reserve leaves and set aside. Do the same with about half as much flat-leaf parsley. Add to workbowl and chop coarsely. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while running until puree is loose and shiny.

Add about 1 cup of lowfat cottage cheese (such a Light & Lively) and parmesean (reserve some for garnish) to workbowl and pulse to blend. Add pine nuts (again, reserve a few for garnish), and pulse until desired consistency. We like ours to have texture, but you can let it rip for a really smooth consistency.

Drain pasta, reserving at least 1 cup of pasta water. Return drained pasta to pot and stir in creamy pesto. Add pasta water as needed to blend well. Pour into serving bowl and garnish with reserved pine nuts and cheese.

If you make this after a long weekend of household chores, take an Alleve for dessert and go to bed early.

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