Walnut Basil Pesto with Bowties and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Walnut Basil Pesto with Bowties and Sun-Dried Tomatoes | Girl and Apron

A few weeks into our marriage, Jason made a heartbreaking declaration over a bowl of spaghetti.

“I don’t think I like pasta.”

He might as well have said “I don’t think I want kids” or “I think God is calling me to be a missionary in Iran.” There are certain things one should discuss before saying “I do,” but I never thought to bring up noodles—my absolute favorite food. Is this what we meant in our marriage vows when we promised unconditional, sacrificial love?

For the last four years, I have loved Jason well. My favorite Italian cookbooks collected dust on a shelf while I figured how to make a mean bowl of rice. I secretly rejoiced when he had to work through dinner or make overnight trips for job interviews; eating alone meant eating PASTA, MY PRECIOUS.

The honeymoon period apparently ended a few weeks after our fourth anniversary. I bought a pound of Italian sausage and some fresh basil at the farmers market. “I’m making pasta and Jason will deal with it,” I resolved (with just the teensiest, semolina-deprived chip on my shoulder).

I was prepared for a heavy sigh as I placed the plate of baked penne in front of him. The kind that said, I guess I’ll just have cereal since apparently you don’t love me any more. Instead, he gave an appreciative murmur and cleaned his plate. “Is there more of this?” He asked hopefully, peering into the kitchen.

“I thought you didn’t like pasta!” I protested.

He thought for a minute. “I guess I just don’t like long pastas. You know. The slimy kind.”

After four years of self-deprivation, I suppose I could have been a little angry. Or perhaps I should have seen this coming, considering Jason once announced he didn’t care for pork, then later asked me why we stopped buying sausage. (Turns out, he didn’t like ham.) But mostly I felt like the clouds had parted. A culinary staple, finally returned to its rightful spot at our table.

I still needed to confirm the penne wasn’t a one-hit wonder. Without the cloak of oozing cheese, would noodle still be welcome in the Aprill house? This recipe delivered my answer. Pasta = yes. Sun-dried tomatoes = not on a certain husband’s plate. (Although maybe it’s time he learned some self-sacrifice, too….)

Walnut Basil Pesto with Bowties and Sun-Dried Tomatoes

My past attempts at making homemade pesto left me frustrated. It tasted wonderful, but the color was drab—nothing like the bright green sauces you’d find at a restaurant. My first run at this recipe was no different. I considered Photoshopping the heck out of it (hello, “selective color!”) but threw in a handful of fresh spinach at the last minute. Bingo. The taste was virtually unaffected, and the pasta stayed a vibrant, grassy green through the next day’s lunch.

Walnut Basil Pesto | Girl and Apron

Serves 4 as a main dish or 6-8 as a side

For the pesto:

  • 3/4 cup shelled walnut halves
  • 1 cup packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup packed fresh spinach
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

For the pasta:

  • 16 oz. farfalle (bow tie) pasta
  • 1 cup diced chicken breast (optional)
  • 1/3 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1 cup pasta water, reserved
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

Walnut Basil Pesto with Bowties and Sun-Dried Tomatoes | Girl and Apron

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the walnuts and toast until fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Add walnuts, basil, spinach, garlic, Parmesan, and olive oil to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until ingredients are incorporated and sauce reaches desired consistency. (I like mine pretty smooth.) Add salt and pepper to taste.

toasting_walnuts    layers_in_ninja

Cook pasta according to package directions. Before draining, dump about a cup of the cooking liquid into a small bowl. Then transfer pasta to colander to drain. (It doesn’t need to drain long; I left mine in the sink for all of 10 seconds.) Transfer pasta back to the cooking pot. Add the pesto, chicken, and sun-dried tomatoes and toss until evenly coated. If the pesto is clumping together, add some of the reserved cooking water, about two tablespoons at a time. (Since my pasta was still pretty wet, I didn’t wind up using any of the reserved liquid.) Serve with freshly-grated Parmesan cheese.


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