I have my home and my hands perfumed with basil. I have savored every moment of growing it, nurturing, harvesting and cooking with it. There is nothing more satisfying than having pasta tossed with the inexplicably fragrant and sweet fresh basil pesto. Little bites of pine nuts, slightly charred tomatoes and the artichokes make it even more special.
Early in the morning I like to tend my plants. I walk around the yard, watering and feeding them, breaking off dead twigs and leaves and having a “heart to heart” with them. It is therapeutic. And then there is always some kind of reward awaiting; some tomatoes, of eggplants or cucumbers, and may be herbs.
It is a positive way to begin the day. The few minutes in the fresh dewy green makes my inner self move ahead in the right direction, and whispers to me that I am blessed and need to be grateful. That I am.
One of these mornings, I collected an armload of basil. It was going to be a pesto making day – to gather the summer, and wrap up the fragrance like a freshly laundered old blanket; to be uncorked and unleashed when outside is bleak, the bushes are no more and the butterflies do not fly anymore over my lavender. Slowly, I will make enough to last us until the next summer. During the upcoming chilly days, the aroma will dance around the home and remind us of summer.
Pesto in my home has a zillion use. Soups, salads, breads, grains, cracker – say anything and the pesto (especially the basil pesto) will refine it. So it happened that bit of the fresh pesto went into the pasta that afternoon and made us a happy, hearty lunch. And then again we had it for dinner, with Tomato, Basil Bruschetta on the side this time.
We love La Madeleine – Country French Cafe. Besides the fresh food (the very thought of their fresh sour dough bread with their blackberry jam, makes me want to head over there even in the middle of the night), the ambience is charming – rustic, comfortable and the kind that would make you want to linger for hours over a cup of good coffee and a slice of cake. (This is not a review and no one paid me for this!)
While La Madeliene’s Tomato Basil soup and the pasta sauce are notoriously good, I love their Mediterranean Pasta even more. There is a reason why we are there smelling the fresh bread and more every other weekend. Even since I have had the basil bushes in my backyard, this the my favorite way to make pasta. It speaks freshness and warmth, and perfume of fresh basil is just too beautiful and delicious.
This is what it says in the menu of La Madeleine:
“Mediterranean Pasta*: Bowtie pasta, mushrooms, garlic, artichoke hearts, Roma tomatoes and Kalamata olives tossed in pesto* sauce”
So the inspiration of this recipe is not just the harvest from my yard, but also our visits to this cafe. As with any pasta recipes, there are no rules to stick to. Use any vegetables (or protein) as you wish and in as much amount that you need. Same thought goes with the pesto/sauce too. I have cooked with all my favorites this time – basil, artichokes, pine nuts and slightly charred tomatoes.
Pasta with Basil Pesto, Pine Nuts and Cherry Tomatoes
Ingredients: (serves 4-6)
- 1 lb dry pasta, any kind
- water + 1 teaspoon oil + salt to cook the pasta
- 1 cup + 1/4 cup basil pesto, homemade or store-bought
- cherry tomatoes (as many as you want)
- artichoke hearts in oil (about 1/2 cup) – use as much as you would like
- bell pepper, chopped -use as much as you would like
- pine nuts, about a fistful – lightly toasted in a skillet until golden and cooled
- salt to taste
- 1/2 tablespoon lemon zest – optional
- olive oil – about 2 – 2.5 tablespoon
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- red crushed pepper
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
- A few fresh basil leaves for garnish, optional
Note: Use any vegetable or whatever else you want to use. This recipe only states what I had used on this particular day.
Over high heat, bring about 5-6 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot. Add salt and 1 teaspoon oil after the water comes to a boil. Add the pasta, stir and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain (do not allow it to dry out so much that the surface of the pasta hardens) and save some cooking liquid.
In a large heavy bottomed pan, add garlic slices, red crushed pepper if you are using, and few turns of freshly ground pepper to a good glug of olive oil (about 2 tablespoons). Allow the oil to heat up; the oil gets infused with garlic and pepper. Increase the heat and add the cherry tomatoes. Cook for a couple of minutes at high heat until they start to soften and pop and also get charred and small blisters on the skin.
Add the artichoke hearts and bell pepper if you are using them (or whatever other vegetables). Toss them all for a couple more minutes for the spiced oil to coat them.
Reduce the heat and add the drained pasta. Toss well for the oil and veggies to combine the pasta. Add the pesto and toss carefully. If the pasta feels too dry, add the reserved water. Switch off the heat. Adjust salt. Add the pine nuts, zest and more crushed pepper (if you want). Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil.
Garnish with fresh basil and serve warm.
Preparation Time: less than 30 minutes
Cooking Time: Less than 30 minutes
Difficulty Level: Easy
Serves: 4-6 as a main meal
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