Frozen peas. I guarantee that most of you have them hanging out in your freezer. What if I told you that besides using them as a green side dish, or as a makeshift ice pack, peas can also be used to add color and flavor to pesto sauce? Bonus: It's also another sneaky way to get your kids or resident veggie-hater to eat peas.
The main components of a pesto sauce are herbs, nuts and oil. Other aromatics like garlic can be thrown in, as well as cheese (classically, Parmesan). But why be limited to the standard pine nut, basil and Parm pesto when you can use a multitude of other ingredients to add both color and flavor?
For this pesto recipe, I used a bag of (thawed) frozen peas to add a hint of sweetness and a light green hue — also, because I already had them in my freezer. In place of pricey pine nuts, I substituted toasted walnuts, and in addition to basil, I threw in chives and spinach to boost the color and herbaceous flavor. To round it all out, I added a pinch of red pepper flakes for a slight hint of spice and some fresh lemon juice to add a bright flavor and enhance the other ingredients.
Now that you've learned the 411 on pesto, you can get creative with it. Go crazy and try out other flavors the next time you make it: sundried tomatoes, carrots, roasted beets and kale are all great bases to start with, as well as the multitude of fresh spring herbs that can be found growing this time of year — thyme, dill, tarragon, chervil, etcetera.
Try out the following pasta dish that utilizes my recipe for pea and walnut pesto. It'll make fantastically tasty and fresh addition to your spring table!
Fettuccine with Pea Pesto, Ricotta, Peas and Walnuts
Makes 6 servings
Pea and Walnut Pesto (makes about 3 cups)
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1 (10-ounce) package frozen peas
2 garlic cloves
Small handful of fresh basil leaves
Small handful of fresh chives
1 cup fresh spinach leaves
A pinch of red pepper flakes
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
1/3 cup (or more) olive oil or other neutral flavored cooking oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 package dry fettuccine pasta
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup (or more) prepared pea and walnut pesto
Olive or neutral cooking oil, as needed
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
A few tablespoons chopped fresh basil for garnish
Put the peas, nuts, garlic, herbs, spinach and pepper flakes in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until everything is roughly chopped. With the motor running, slowly pour in the oil and blend until the mixture is pureed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add a squeeze of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. Blend again to combine and then taste to see if it needs more seasoning. Set aside until ready for use. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.
For the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions. When the pasta is cooked, drain in a colander (saving some of the cooking liquid) and put drained noodles in a large bowl.
Add in the ricotta and pesto to the hot pasta along with a little of the reserved cooking water, tossing to combine. Add in the chopped walnuts in peas and toss together. If the pasta seems too dry, add in a drizzle of oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately and garnish with the fresh herbs.
Tips: Miss the cheese in the pesto? Just add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan to it. To make it vegan, simply omit the ricotta.