I have only recently started a love affair with pesto. A few months back I made this Roasted Red Pepper Pesto Pasta and was floored by how amazing it was. With summer around the corner I knew that I wanted to try out some tradition basil pesto in a pasta salad. So I looked to Cooks Illustrated.
This recipe for Pesto Pasta Salad is wonderful. Cooks Illustrated does a great job, yet again, balancing all the flavors as well as the texture. Instead of using regular pesto which only contains oil as the base, they use a mixture of oil and mayonnaise. The mayonnaise creates an almost creamy pesto that works perfectly with the pasta. If oil was the only fat used then the salad would be oily and greasy rather than slightly creamy. Don’t worry, it’s not so much mayonnaise that it resembles macaroni salad, it’s just enough to get a better consistency so that the pesto will stick to the pasta better. Pretty clever if you ask me.
If you’ve never made a pesto you really have to try. They are not nearly as hard as most people imagine. If you have a food processor, you can make pesto. It’s simple a matter of dumping in all the ingredients and processing until it forms a beautiful green sauce. SO easy! The hardest part is buying all the basil… personally I hate buying fresh herbs. They are pretty expensive and you rarely need a whole package so much of it goes to waste. I really need to invest in an herb garden. That’s really the way to go with this. Basil itself is actually very easy to grow indoors. On multiple occasions I have purchased those pre-potted basil plants from the grocery store and they thrive beautifully in the windowsill.
I think this salad would be the perfect addition to a BBQ or summer party. It’s easy to prepare and has flavors that almost everybody is fond of. That’s the key to success at parties- bring items that are easily identifiable and with flavors and ingredients that are always popular, even for the picky eaters. Most people see and hear “garlic, basil, tomatoes, and pasta” and think “delicious”. You’d be hard pressed to find objections to this salad. Well, except for those people that don’t like nuts in their salads, in which case you can easily omit the added pine nuts at the end.
- ¾ cup pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
- 1 lb farfalle
- 5 Tb extra virgin olive oil
- 3 cups fresh basil leaves
- 1 oz (1 cup) baby spinach
- ½ tsp pepper
- 2 Tb lemon juice
- 1½ oz parmesan cheese, grated fine (3/4 cup), plus extra for serving
- 6 Tb mayonnaise
- 12 oz cherry tomatoes, quartered
- Bring 4 qts water to boil in large pot over high heat. Toast pine nuts in dry skillet over medium heat, shaking pan occasionally, until just golden and fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes.
- When water is boiling, add garlic and let cook 1 minute. Remove garlic with slotted spoon and rinse under cold water to stop cooking; set aside and let cool. Add 1 Tb salt and pasta to water, stir to separate, and cook until tender (just past al dente). Reserve ¼ cup cooking water, drain pasta, toss with 1 Tb oil, spread in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet, and let cool to room temperature, 30 minutes.
- When garlic is cool, peel and mince or press through garlic press. Place ¼ cup nuts, garlic, basil, spinach, pepper, lemon juice, remaining ¼ cup oil, and 1 tsp salt in bowl of food processor and process until smooth, scraping sides of bowl as necessary. Add cheese and mayonnaise and process until thoroughly combined. Transfer mixture to large serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to assemble salad.
- When pasta is cool, toss with pesto, adding reserved pasta water, 1 Tb at a time, until pesto evenly coats pasta. Fold in remaining ½ cup nuts and tomatoes if using; serve with extra parmesan.
Adapted from “The New Best Recipe” By Cooks Illustrated