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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Garden Pasta with Almond Basil Pesto Sauce and a Dinner Menu

Fresh pesto sauce is an absolute delight to the tastebuds. You get great readymade pesto in the grocery store and it is very handy to use, so if you don't have the ingredients or time to make, you can definitely use a store bought version. However, once you have tasted fresh pesto, you will not want to use the refrigerated version. The sweet basil, pungent garlic and creamy almonds make this a delectable dish. It is a very elegant dish and doesn't take a lot of time to make. It is just the perfect dinner party dish. You can scale it to make large quantities easily and it will impress your guests for sure.

Here is a great menu for your next dinner party. I am sure this will wow your guests.

Garlic Bread
Tomato Basil Bisque soup
Garden Pasta with Almond Basil Pesto Sauce

For the pesto
1 cup basil
5-6 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (or more to give the pesto a thick sauce consistency)
1 cup of almonds, peeled or blanched
salt to taste
pepper to taste (optional)

For the pasta
1 box (about 1 pound) of sphagetti - cook it per the directions on the box.
1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (pesto has a lot of oil in it already, so don't use a lot for the veggies)
3-4 cloves of garlic - finely diced
1 large yellow onion, sliced
1 cup bell pepper (red, yellow, orange), sliced
1 cup broccoli florets - blanched 
1 zucchini - sliced into semi circles
salt to taste

To make the pesto

Add the basil, garlic, almonds to a food processor or blender. Add the salt and pepper and then start processing. As you process, add the olive oil through the feed tube in the processor/blender. Add just enough oil so that the resultant mixture has a  thick sauce like consistency. If it's too little, it will not spread well when added to the pasta and if its too much then the taste will get diluted and the pesto will not stick to the pasta.

To make the pasta
Cook the pasta per instructions. You can keep it "al dente" where is slightly undercooked, or well done. If its "al dente" it has a slight bite to it. Keep this aside. Reserve the water the pasta was cooked in.

Heat the oil in a broad pan, to this add the garlic. Once you start getting the aroma of garlic being cooked, add the onion slices. Cook these till the onion begins to get transparent. Then add the bell pepper, cook for a couple of minutes. Then add the zuccini slices. Next add the cooked broccoli and cook all the vegetables for another minute. Don't overcook the vegetables, they should still have a little bite and not be mushy. Season the vegetables with salt at this time. Remember there is some salt in the pesto, so add just a little salt. Then add the sphagetti and toss it well with the vegetables. If the pasta and vegetable mixture seems very dry at this point, add a little of the water reserved from cooking the pasta and mix. Turn off the heat. Then pour the desired amount of the pesto sauce over the warm sphagetti and toss well to coat the vegetables and the sphagetti with pesto. Garnish with a basil leaf and grated parmesan (parmigiano reggiano) cheese.

There are many varieties of basil available, so make sure you are picking up the one used in Italian cooking and it's not the sweet basil used in Thai food because the tastes are starkly different. Most pesto recipes call for a lot of olive oil. I try to use as little oil as possible in my preparations, so you can increase the oil in the pesto based on your preference and how much oil you need to get to the sauce consistency.
To blanch the broccoli, boil water and add the broccoli to it. Let it cook for a couple of minutes till you see it turn a bright green color. Keep a bowl of iced water ready and add the cooked broccoli to the iced water so that it stops cooking. At this point, the broccoli will be semi-cooked and a lovely bright green.  To peel almonds, soak them in water overnight. Next morning, you will be able to easily peel off the skin. If you don't have the time to pre-soak it, add them to the boiling water and remove after a minute. This is similar to blanching the broccoli. Then peel the loosened skin. You also can buy blanched and sliced almonds from the store and use it directly.


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