Newly Minted: Almond-Mint Pesto, Gin & Tonic with Grapefruit & Mint
If mint over-runneth your garden – chives too, for that matter – then this pesto is for you. It’s surprisingly mild, luscious with toasted almonds and olive oil (no cheese). It makes a quick, lovely dinner, especially tossed with fresh tomatoes (as written) or a handful or two of your favorite lightly sauteed vegetables. (My tomatoes were just meh, so I added English peas, asparagus, and spinach instead. Very un-meh, as in tasty.)
This recipe hails from Lynn Rosetto Kasper’s The Italian Country Table, one of my favorite cookbooks. She suggests a combination of toasted almonds, pistachios, and pine nuts for maximum nuttiness. But if you’re pinched for time (and ingredients), almonds alone are fabulous too. I used garlic scapes in place of garlic, because I had them, but I’ll print the original recipe below and you can riff away. Seriously, if you do have tons of chives, throw some in. And if you like, add more olive oil than called for. This pesto is less oily than others, which works because you toss it into the pasta with plenty of pasta cooking water (a great trick for getting by with less oil). But if you like an oilier pesto, then add it. That’s the cool thing about pesto (other than being completely delicious) – it’s pretty hard to screw up.
While you contemplate your pesto ingredients and wait for your water to boil, crush several mint leaves in a glass with a wooden spoon, then fill the glass with ice, add a shot of gin (or vodka), and a shot of grapefruit juice. Top it all off with tonic water and give a little stir.
So pretty, right? Pure summer.
Linguine with Pistachio-Almond Pesto
Adapted from The Italian Country Table by Lynne Rosetto Kasper
Serves 8 as a first course; 4-6 as a main dish
Note: I added 1/2 c. of shelled peas, 1/2 c. of chopped asparagus, and 1 c. of chopped spinach to the version in the photo. While the pasta cooks, saute the vegetables in 1 Tbsp. of olive oil, with a sprinkle of salt, for a few minutes until spinach is wilted and peas and asparagus are just tender-crisp. Add to the serving bowl along with the pesto, tomatoes, and olive oil, per below.
1/2 c. unblanched whole almonds, toasted
1/2 c. shelled salted pistachio nuts, toasted
1/3 c. pine nuts, toasted
1 large clove garlic
pinch of hot red pepper flakes
1/4 c. fruity extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste, plus extra for drizzling
40 large mint leaves
salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 lb. linguine, spaghetti, bucatini, or other string pasta
1 lb. good cherry tomatoes, quartered
Mix the cooled toasted nuts. Coarsely chop about one quarter of them and set aside. Add the garlic, hot pepper flakes, olive oil, remaining whole nuts, and 2/3 of the mint leaves to the bowl of a food processor. Process until the mixture looks like very coarse meal. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Tear up the remaining mint leaves.
Cook the pasta in fiercely boiling water, stirring often, until tender yet firm to the bite.
As the pasta cooks, gently blend the pesto, tomatoes, and a drizzle of the oil in a deep pasta bowl. Skim off 1/2 to 3/4 c. of the pasta cooking water just before draining, and drain the pasta in a colander. Add the pasta water to the bowl. Add the sauce, pasta, chopped nuts, and salt and pepper to taste and toss. Then toss in the reserved torn mint. Taste for seasoning, adding extra oil, mint, salt, and/or pepper if needed. Serve hot or warm. No cheese is used here.