The recent teasers of chilly days have sent me scampering to use up what’s left in my garden before nature decides it’s truly time to frost. It is a good time to make pesto.
In Italy, pesto, a paste of herbs, olive oil and Parmesan cheese, is used for everything from spreading on bruschetta to slathered on a Panini to stirred with hot pasta noodles until the parmesan melts delightfully. Traditionally made with garlic, basil and roasted pine nuts, I like to add spinach to my pesto as well. It cuts the powerful basil nicely and adds a nice nutritional boost while making the endeavor more economical if you have to buy your fresh herbs at the store.
Low in saturated fats and high in healthy, unsaturated fats, pesto is one of my favorite healthy choices for its satisfying flavor and incredible versatility.
Tightly seal freshly-made pesto in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 week, longer if very oily. I pack it in my kids’ lunches as a dip with baby carrots and pita chips. Try pesto in place of mayonnaise on sandwiches with any lunchmeat or fresh vegetables. Mix it into tuna instead of mayo. Let it melt over freshly-roasted vegetables. Paint it on grilled chicken just before serving. Put it in sterile jars and can it for holiday gifts. The possibilities are endless.
Here is my favorite pesto recipe along with two ways to make a healthy one-dish meal with more of the end-of-summer vegetables. Consider leaving out the fish and instead using chicken or pork for a different take on this meal. Of course, you should feel free to use store-bought pesto and choose different vegetables, too.
2 handfuls spinach leaves
1 handful basil leaves
2-4 cloves garlic
1/3 cup olive oil (more or less), divided
1/2 cup shelled, toasted pine nuts
6-8 oz. ground Parmesan cheese
Fill the bowl of a food processor with cleaned spinach and basil leaves and peeled cloves of garlic. Drizzle in olive oil to lubricate and pulse. Add pine nuts that have been toasted at 300F for a few minutes, and Parmesan cheese. Continuously drizzle small amounts of olive oil while running the machine until you have a runny paste. Taste and season with sea salt, if necessary (I usually find the Parmesan adds enough salt).
Pasta with Pesto
4 scallions, chopped
2 cups dry pasta noodles (penne, macaroni, fusilli, rotilli, or farfalle (bowtie))
2/3 cup water or broth (more, if boiling pasta separately)
1 –1 1/2 lb. fish filets (flounder, tilapia, halibut, salmon, or whatever you prefer)
4 cups eggplant, small cubes
4 cups zucchini, small cubes
1 cup yellow or orange bell pepper, small cubes
1/2 cup pesto
4-8 roasted green chiles, peeled, stemmed, seeded, chopped (optional)
Boil water and prepare pasta according to package directions. Place fish in oiled baking dish and in the oven at 300F until cooked through. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a deep skillet and sauté eggplant, zucchini and bell pepper until veggies are fork-tender. Place hot veggies in a large serving bowl with drained pasta and toss with pesto and chiles until well blended. You may want to add some of the reserved pasta water to help the pesto distribute evenly. Serve on a plate with a piece of fish.
Preheat oven to 450F. Spray inside of 3 1/2 or 4-qt cast iron Dutch oven and lid with olive oil. Scatter with scallions. Pour pasta into pot. Add liquid and stir to coat noodles well. Spread into even layer across base.
Set fish in next. In a medium bowl, mix zucchini, eggplant, and bell pepper with pesto. Mix well to distribute the pesto. Add the chiles, if desired. Spread vegetables into thick layer atop fish. Cover and bake for 45 minutes, or until 3 minutes after the aroma of a fully-cooked meal wafts from the oven.
Elizabeth Yarnell is a Certified Nutritional Consultant, inventor, and author of Glorious One-Pot Meals: A new quick & healthy approach to Dutch oven cooking. Glorious One-Pot Meal recipes are protected under US and Canadian patents. Visit www.GloriousOnePotMeals.com to learn more about this unique cooking method and www.EffortlessEating.com for Elizabeth’s philosophy and recipes for living naturally.