(jump to recipe)
When I first read about a pea pesto, it sounded (and still does) so perfect – why rely on temperamental herbs like basil which look perfect when you buy them at the store and are sure to wilt by the time you get around to making the pesto? Pea pesto is easy, substantial, and can be made from things you already in the kitchen – frozen peas, almonds or pine nuts, a bit of hard salty cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano (although I often times skip it to keep things dairy-free), garlic and good olive oil!
Hot pasta tossed in freshly made pesto with a splash of pasta water is all you need to have a great, perfectly light spring or summer meal, in less than an hour. The pesto can be made while the pasta water boils, and while the pasta cooks, maybe you can set the table, make a salad maybe (but you already got the green covered in the pesto so not necessary) and pour yourself a glass of something white and chilled!
This pasta is quite different from the heavy, cream-laden pasta we are used to in restaurants. In fact, it has no cream or milk at all! It is fresh and bright in flavor, each piece of penne cooked al dente – translates to “toothsome”. Since the entire dish is not buried under cheese or cream, you can actually taste the ingredients!
I don’t always have pine nuts on hand but I do keep slivered and sliced almonds at all times for my oatmeal and garnishing various Indian desserts, so I’ve made this particular pesto with toasted slivered almonds instead. If you have pine nuts please use them by all means for a slightly more decadent pesto!
I’m also using a small handful of fresh mint leaves to brighten up the pesto, as I love the combination of peas and mint (ever tried buttered peas and mint with sea salt and black pepper? You really should!). You may use basil, parsley or cilantro for a differently but equally fresh flavor profile.
Other than that, we have the usual suspects – green peas (if frozen, then defrosted with a quick dip into a bowl of hot water; if fresh, then blanched in salted, boiling water for 2-3 minutes then cooled/washed immediately), couple cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, along with extra virgin olive oil.
We start by setting about 8 cups of water to boil in a medium pot, in which to cook our pasta. It’s a good idea to add the extra virgin olive oil and salt after the water has almost come to a boil; adding salt in the beginning will slow down the boiling and the water will take much longer to boil.
As more and more varieties of grain-free and gluten-free pasta are becoming available, I find them using them more often! I particularly love this Chickpea pasta and use it often for dry, tossed pastas. Today I’m using Barilla’s gluten-free pasta (made with rice and corn instead of all-purpose flour), but use whichever pasta and pasta shape you’d like!
In the work bowl of a food processor add all but 1/2 cup of the peas, mint leaves (saving a few for garnish), garlic, toasted almonds, cheese, black pepper and red pepper flakes, and process until puréed into a smooth consistency, about 2 minutes on High speed.
Taste the mixture and add salt to taste, depending on the saltiness of the cheese, and pulse to combine. With the food processor running, stream in the olive oil and process until pesto is homogenous.
The pesto is ready! This is perfect as a spread or dip to use as an appetizer – on crackers or crostini! Should you want to make this into a meal, read on.
Cook the dry pasta in the boiling, salted water until al dente (toothsome and just shy of completely cooked) and saving 1 cup of the pasta water, drain the rest of it.
Transfer the pasta back to the pot and add pesto, remaining 1/2 cup green peas and a few tablespoons at a time of the pasta water, and tossing everything together on medium heat until pesto coats the pasta completely.
Transfer to serving bowl and serve at once, garnished with slivered mint leaves (or parsley or cilantro) and peels of the cheese, if desired!
This pasta tastes best as soon as you make it, so if you are not sure if you can consume it all within the meal, make the pesto ahead of time and toss with hot pasta at the time of eating. Pesto will keep refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. If you are planning to store it for longer, use less garlic as its flavor will bloom as it keeps!
• Recipe •
Pasta with Pea-Mint Pesto
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Makes 4 small main portions
1 1/2 cups (about 300 grams) fresh or frozen peas
1/3 cup mint leaves, washed and dried (save few leaves for garnish)
2 small garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2-3 tablespoons almonds (skinless), toasted and cooled
1/3 cup (about 25 grams) grated parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
1/4 teaspoon, or to taste, freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon, or to taste, red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon table salt, plus more for pasta water
1/4 cup (about 60 ml) olive oil
12 oz (about 350 grams) dried linguine
Thinly slivered mint leaves
Peels of parmesan cheese
In a large saucepan, bring 6-8 cups of water to a boil along with olive oil. Add 1-2 teaspoons of table salt after the water is almost up to a boil, and not before, as it will slow down the boiling!
If using fresh peas
Bring a small saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add peas and cook for 2 minutes. Drain peas and immediately run them under cold tap water to stop the cooking.
If using frozen peas
Please peas in a bowl and pour boiling water over them, just enough to submerge the peas. Let stand for 2-3 minutes and drain.
Set aside 1/2 cup of your cooked peas.
Place the remaining (1 cup) peas in the work bowl of a food processor, and add garlic, mint leaves, almonds, parmesan cheese, peppers and chili flakes, and process until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes, scraping down the bowl as necessary.
Taste and add 1/4 teaspoon of salt, or more/less to taste (depending on the saltiness of the cheese). Process for few seconds to combine.
With the machine running, drizzle in olive oil slowly until uniformly incorporated.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta until toothsome in the boiling water for about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water in a cup and set aside, and drain the pasta. Transfer back to the saucepan immediately.
On medium heat, cook the pasta with the prepared pesto, 1/2 cup whole peas (saved from earlier) and pasta water (add few tablespoons at a time), stirring continuously until everything is mixed together.
Adjust salt, black pepper and chili flakes to taste. Transfer to serving bowl, and serve immediately garnished with slivers of mint leaves and parmesan cheese (if using).