Pasta with pecan pesto, pronto

by Terry B on September 10, 2008

Fresh basil, garlic and Parmesan pack plenty of flavor in this quick dish, perfect for weeknight suppers. Besides boiling water for pasta, the only cooking involved is pan toasting the pecans.

A quick note: Welcome to the new home of Blue Kitchen! Following this post, I’ll tell you a little bit about what you’ll find here—and what to expect in the coming weeks. Be sure to scroll down for the whole story.

For the second year in a row, we didn’t have a garden. That meant no fresh tomatoes, still warm from the sun. No fragrant fresh rosemary. And perhaps worst of all, no armloads of fresh basil to turn into delicious batches of pesto—some to be consumed immediately, some to be frozen in small zippered bags for a taste of summer in midwinter.

So when Marion picked up a single, smallish basil plant in a market a couple of weeks ago, we both knew its ultimate fate. It was far too late in the season to plant in the yard or even bother with repotting. Instead, it sat on the kitchen counter, basking in the sunlight through the south-facing window, innocent of its rapidly approaching end.

We sometimes brushed against it, accidentally or on purpose, releasing that wonderful scent I can only describe as summer. And we occasionally harvested a few leaves—to mix into a tuna salad or chop and sprinkle over tomato slices.

Finally, the other night, I made pesto. I started by quickly pan toasting the pecans, so they’d have a chance to cool. Then I put on a big pot of water for pasta. By the time it had come to a rolling boil, I had all the pesto ingredients in the food processor, waiting to be ground into a heady, heavenly sauce for the pasta.

Fettuccine with Pecan Pesto
2 to 4 servings, depending on amount of pasta cooked

1/2 cup pecans [or other nuts—see Kitchen Notes]
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves, washed and spun dry
1/2 cup good quality olive oil [see Kitchen Notes]
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan [see Kitchen Notes]
hot water
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fettuccine, 12 to 16 ounces uncooked [see Kitchen Notes]

Toast pecans in a nonstick skillet over a medium-low flame, stirring occasionally, until golden and fragrant—about 5 minutes. Transfer to a shallow bowl or plate in a single layer to cool completely.

Mince garlic and mix with 1/2-teaspoon salt in a small bowl, mashing with a fork to form a paste of sorts. Combine basil, pecans, garlic and Parmesan in bowl of food processor. Pulse several times to coarsely chop and combine everything. Add olive oil and 2 tablespoons hot water [you can steal some from the boiling pasta water] and blend to proper consistency. Don’t overprocess—you want a little texture to the pesto. You may need to scrape down the sides with a spatula and pulse mixture to get an even consistency.

Meanwhile, cook fettuccine according to package instructions to al dente. Drain pasta. Transfer about 2/3 of cooked pasta to a large bowl and add pesto. Toss gently to coat pasta evenly with sauce, adding extra pasta as you go. If the pesto coating starts looking less than generous, toss out the rest of the pasta. Pasta is cheap. You don’t want to overwhelm the pesto. Adjust seasonings, divide among plates and serve.

Kitchen notes

Mixed nuts? Traditionally, pine nuts or walnuts are used in pesto. Both are great, but we really like the slightly more refined taste of pecans. So when I came across a pesto recipe some time ago that suggested using pecans, I was there. That said, pine nuts or walnuts will be delicious too.

Everyone goes crazy for extra virgin olive oil. Me, not so much. You’ll always see it specified in recipes, even when people are searing something with high heat. It may be great for salad dressings and for dipping bread in, but it’s not so great for cooking. First, it has a lower smoke point than regular olive oil—which is already plenty low for anything other than a low to medium flame. And second, it has a more assertive taste. So for cooking, I go for a decent quality olive oil that’s a little less virginal. For the pesto, I used a nice extra virgin olive oil, but with all the other flavors going on, good quality and freshness are more important than its, well, past.

Don’t skimp on the Parmesan. If you want to splurge a little, here’s where to do it. Buy a decent Parmesan, preferably Italian and definitely not pre-grated. Trust me, you’ll taste the difference.

Flat pasta, hold the rinsing. Flat pastas like fettuccine and linguine are traditionally used for pesto. Their broad, flat surfaces are perfect for collecting up the little bits of pesto. And cooked al dente, flat pastas are sturdier for tossing. And don’t rinse your pasta! I mean it. The starch remaining on the pasta helps the sauce cling to it better, rather than sliding off back into the bowl.

A final vegetarian note. If you’re even a casual Blue Kitchen reader, you know I’m not a vegetarian [I'll wait while you finish laughing at this gross understatement]. This dish, however, is. And with its rich mix of cheese, nuts and oil, it is thoroughly satisfying as a meatless meal. Why this matters is I just heard something on NPR a day or so ago that said one way to reduce greenhouse gases and our carbon footprint was to eat maybe one or two fewer meals with meat a week. Now, I’m not going to give up eating meat for more reasons than I care going into right here, but I could cut out a meat meal or two a week. And who knows? A few future efforts may turn up here at some point.

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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

diva September 10, 2008 at 10:13 am

congrats on the move! this new site looks lovely and that pasta is beautiful too. :)

Mary Coleman September 10, 2008 at 12:38 pm

Beautiful new home, Terry! And gorgemous pasta as well. Do you think you’ll continue the no gardening tendency next year?

Ronnie Ann September 10, 2008 at 1:44 pm

LOVE your new site, Terry! And what a way to start it off. The parmesan pecan pesto pasta looks positively scrumptious. I’ve never had it made with pecans, but can imagine the flavor blending nicely. In fact, would love some right about now.

All the best on the new and deliciously improved Blue Kitchen!

Ronnie Ann

Carolyn September 10, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Congrats on the fabulous site! A visual feast!

Carol September 10, 2008 at 8:53 pm

Pesto without pine nuts, now that’s intriguing. I’m reminded I haven’t made a pesto yet this summer and my late-in basil is waiting for me, meaning. Some newer varieties don’t flower so the flavor is better longer. ‘Will try this recipe by weekend. Thanks too for your pointers about extra virgin isn’t always best and don’t rinse the pasta.

Your new layout is even better than before and Walker Evans! My photography professor had this same print in his office. Thanks Terry

Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) September 11, 2008 at 12:16 am

Lovely redesign, light and airy. I’ve finally stocked up on pecans to make Kalyn’s sage-pecan pesto, so I’ll have plenty left to try this recipe, too. This is the time of year when all of the basil needs to come out of my garden, before the frost does it in, so pesto-making is in full swing.

evi September 11, 2008 at 12:17 am

Phew! I’m so glad you’re back. This new website is super cool!

Susan from Food Blogga September 11, 2008 at 12:42 am

Hi Terry! I like you am without a garden, but that hasn’t stopped me from making pesto. And your pecan pesto sounds like a terrific change from pine nuts. You know, Kalyn recently made a pecan and sage pesto that sounds wonderful too. Now I’ve got to try pecan pesto for myself.

BTW-I love the clean and modern new of your new site.

Terry B September 11, 2008 at 12:56 am

diva—Thanks! It was delicious too. Sorry now we didn’t have more basil to work with.

Mary—I doubt we’ll get into full-fledged gardening, but we may try to put in a little basil and rosemary. We rely on them so much in the kitchen.

Thank you, Ronnie Ann. And thanks especially for all your help and encouragement during the grimmest moments.

Thanks, Carolyn! Kind of an extension of the idea that we eat with our eyes too.

Carol—Walker Evans is an absolute favorite of mine. We actually own a couple of his prints from the Library of Congress.

Lydia—Thanks! Light and airy was exactly what I was going for. I envy you all the basil.

Thanks, evi! I love your charming brief post on tomatoes. Sweet, poignant and funny.

Susan—Now you’re the second person to mention Kalyn’s pecan sage pesto. I may have to give that a try.

Kalyn September 11, 2008 at 2:05 am

Terry, the new site is looking wonderful. I agree, it’s so clean and modern looking. (And happy to see people are enticing you to try my sage-pecan pesto. I’ve used it in stuffed chicken breasts with feta, and also on roasted summer squash; both were great!)

Kristen September 11, 2008 at 3:37 am

I purchased this theme over the weekend for a new site I’m working on. I love the clean feel of it. You have done a great job here! Looks awesome! Congrats :)

Christina September 11, 2008 at 4:06 am

Hi Terry B. This site looks lovely! Nicely done, friend.

It’s been pesto time around here over and over lately. Even though it wasn’t a good year for tomatoes, it was a fabulous one for basil, and I have buttloads of it. We like pecans in our pesto too, but our favorite nut for pesto is the pistachio. Yum.

Anyway, I’m excited for you and your new site–it really is beautiful.

Donald September 11, 2008 at 9:10 am

Nice new digs Terry. I’ll miss the “what’s playing”, I kinda liked that. But then again, I am such the music freak!

I’m diggin’ the pesto. I think it’s versatile. Maybe over some poached eggs?

Helmut September 11, 2008 at 9:14 am

The new site looks impressive. Sad you felt it necessary to discontinue the two former side-bars. I always enjoyed your music reviews and other Random Thoughts. The moving photo is a stunner!

Patricia Scarpin September 11, 2008 at 12:39 pm

Terry, I’m insanely addicted to pesto but haven’t tried it with pecans yet (walnuts and pine nuts, only). That sounds amazing and looks delicious.
I live in an apartment but that doesn’t stop me from growing herbs in small vases. I really like cooking with fresh herbs and can’t imagine myself without them now!
Your blog looks beautiful, I love the new design.

Toni September 11, 2008 at 6:40 pm

Terry – First of all, the site is beautiful – kudos! And now, as for that pesto….I wish I liked pecans, but alas, they’re not one of my favorites. I’ve always made pesto with pine nuts, but I actually have walnuts, so I just might try that one. And – I’m really not trying to rub this in – I’ve got lots of basil that needs to be dealt with!!! So thanks!

Toni September 11, 2008 at 6:55 pm

On another subject: As for vegetarian diets, I too, am not a vegetarian. However, after 2 trips to India, I have decided to try a new approach to eating. One day a week I eat vegan. I know – it’s out there, but there are so many terrific recipes that work within this model that I had to try it! Two days a week, I eat vegetarian. And the other 4 days I eat whatever I want to. As a health care professional and as someone who wants to stay as healthy as possible while on this side of the dirt, I know that reducing my intake of meat has a profoundly positive effect. I just never want to sacrifice my hedonistic love of food. If it doesn’t taste good, who cares?

I just heard about a book (Diary of a Mad Cowboy??? Don’t recall exactly) which talks about the environmental impact of dairy farming. I’m not sure I want to read it, but I figure that one day a week without dairy won’t kill me.

Follow the Cook September 11, 2008 at 7:03 pm

I just made some amazing pesto with macadamia nuts. Makes me wanna do the hula!

Terry B September 11, 2008 at 10:10 pm

Kalyn—You know, you bring up a great point I intended to mention, but forgot. There are so many uses for pesto besides as a pasta sauce. The ones you mention are great. Also, using it as a spread on sandwiches, either on its own or mixed with a little mayo.

Thanks, Kristen! Send me the link to your new site when it’s up and running. I’d love to see it.

Christina—Pistachio pesto? Kick me while I’m down, why don’t you?

Donald—I’m a music freak too. There just weren’t enough of us tuning in to the boombox.

Helmut—Yep, it’s hard to beat Walker Evans.

Patricia—We meant to at least do some container gardening this year, but it just didn’t happen. Next year, maybe.

Toni—That sounds like a perfect approach to reducing meat and dairy intake and reducing your carbon footprint. And if any cuisine offers interesting vegan food ideas, it’s India. That’s a cuisine we eat in restaurants fairly regularly, but don’t explore at home often enough. I think we need to do that a bit more.

Follow the Cook—Pesto with macadamia nuts? You guys are killing me. Seriously.

Ginny September 12, 2008 at 4:46 am

What a great dinner! I love things that are simple…

canarygirl September 12, 2008 at 9:35 am

Love the new look! I’ll have to update your link in my blogroll. Beautiful pesto, too! :D

Sylvia September 12, 2008 at 11:39 am

Love your new look, is cleaner and beautiful. I usually use pine nuts or walnuts to make pesto . But with pecan sound so good too.

Terry B September 12, 2008 at 12:47 pm

Ginny—I’m with you. I sometimes enjoy making elaborate recipes, but when a handful of ingredients come together this beautifully, there’s just something special about that.

canarygirl—Thanks! And to others who have so kindly given me links in your blogrolls, I’d love it if you could update those links.

Thanks, Sylvia! Down in Argentina, you’re just getting ready for spring—don’t forget to plant some basil this year.

Alisa September 16, 2008 at 2:52 pm

I was just blog hopping when I came across your site and congratulations on this new one! I love your plate of pesto!They look delicious! Id like to try this one this weekend! What would be perfect with this one is a recipe i found in Foodista They have a Limoncello beverage recipe that you might like :)

Lisa September 16, 2008 at 5:35 pm

Finally made it to the new site. It looks terrific! Your hard work definitely paid off. The pesto sounds great. I love pecans and am always looking for new ways to get them in my diet.

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