Good pasta can be created by opening a jar of sauce, but truly fantastic pasta is often created without the jar. If your kitchen toolbox includes quality olive oil, fresh herbs, vibrant produce, and the right noodles, you really have no need for jarred sauce. This dish proves it: Rustic Italian Pasta Recipe with Walnut-Pesto Pan Sauce.
It’s all about the pan sauce here—a sauce that you build directly in the pan, one ingredient at a time. These types of sauces call upon your senses rather than following a strict recipe. As you add each ingredient, you’re tasting as you go, adding a little more of this, a little more of that, until your sauce is just where you want it to be.
I call this a “pesto” pan sauce, but it’s really not a standard pureed pesto. Instead, the ingredients you’ll often find in pesto—nuts, olive oil, lemon, and fresh basil—all come together freeform in a hot skillet, which makes for a new and delicious take on a familiar Italian sauce.
Rustic Italian Pasta with Walnut-Pesto Pan Sauce [Vegan]
Makes about 4 servings
½ pound penne pasta
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets
1 ½ cups fresh or frozen cauliflower florets
¼ cup olive oil, plus more, to taste
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
½ teaspoon dried basil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
¼ cup lemon juice, plus more, to taste
¼ cup sliced fresh basil
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat; add pasta and boil until almost al dente. Add broccoli and cauliflower florets to pot and continue boiling until pasta and vegetables are both just-tender. Drain; reserve a bit of cooking water.
Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan; add garlic, zest, dried basil, dried oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook until just fragrant, stirring, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste; stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add walnuts and lemon juice; cook until liquid cooks down and mixture thickens, stirring, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add additional olive oil and/or lemon juice to taste; you’re aiming for a slightly thickened consistency, with enough pan sauce to coat all of the pasta and vegetables.
Add reserved pasta and vegetables to skillet, along with fresh basil. Toss with pan sauce to coat everything evenly. Add a few splashes of reserved cooking water to pasta as needed to increase liquid levels, if needed. Season and serve.
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Image by Kimberley Stakal