I really was struggling with what to give you as a Tuesday Tip, torn as I am between sharing a wonderful recipe and some tips for losing weight. So I decided to do a little bit of both!
Today’s recipe uses basil from the bumper crop that is growing in my garden (and which the gopher that has taken up residence there clearly doesn’t like).
Today’s recipe is also one that can be varied in many ways, including one that is lower-in-fat and tasty. It’s also one that Dani and Mitch from SECRET AGENT REUNION might have shared in Rome. In fact, in the delightful Spirito di Vino restaurant that is mentioned in the book, we had a wonderful variation made with almonds and cream (so totally not diet friendly!)
So, here goes with my recipe for pesto and some suggestions for making it lower in fat, but not lacking in taste.
In a skillet (cast iron or non-stick) over medium heat, toast the pine nuts for 10–15 minutes, checking often to avoid excessive browning or burning. Set aside a handful of the nuts to place whole over the pasta.
Combine about 1/2 the oil with the basil, garlic, cheese and the remaining pine nuts in a food processor or blender and chop finely. While the processor is still running, slowly add the remaining oil to reach a paste-like consistency.
You can use the pesto immediately or cover it with a thin layer of olive oil and refrigerate in an airtight container for up to one week. You can also freeze the pesto for several months.
Now, I know you are thinking nuts, cheese and oil? Low-fat? You are right about that, so what can you do to lower the calories and the fat content?
Reduce the amount of oil to 1/2 cup. That will make the pesto much thicker and so it will require a bit of thinning when it is to be mixed with the pasta. How do you thin it without losing taste?
When you boil the pasta and are ready to get rid of the water, keep about 1 cup of the pasta water. Use this pasta water, which has flavor and nutrients from the pasta, to thin the pesto once you have mixed it into the pasta.
Also, since we’re talking tips for losing weight and healthier eating, use a whole grain pasta. I must confess to not finding anything appealing about whole wheat pasta, but Barilla has a great lower carb pasta that contains other grains and has protein as well. Just make sure to carefully watch it, as unlike other Barilla pasta, it can get mushy.
What else can you do with the above basic recipe?
Try an even lower fat and more antioxidant rich Sicilian-style pesto. Chop up about 3 cups of plum tomatoes, making sure to catch all the rich juices as you do so. Mix the tomatoes in with about a cup of the pesto. Serve this mixture at room temperature over pasta. It’s a great light summer meal. You can also cool the pasta and mix it with this tomato pesto for a summer salad. Top with low-fat mozzarella for an added twist or with some grilled shrimp, chicken or tuna.
One other thing — pine nuts can be pricey, I know. Also hard to find in some areas. So what can you do? I substitute 1/2 cup walnuts or almonds which are far less expensive and give an even richer and nuttier taste. Also, nuts are packed with nutrients and healthy non-animal fats.
How else can you vary this recipe? Add some grilled or roasted eggplant (which I must battle the gopher for as well!). Roasted peppers make a nice addition and can also be blended into the basic recipe for some sweetness or just use mostly roasted red peppers instead. Finally, for a little kick, mince a jalapeno pepper and toss it into the mix.
I hope you’ve liked this recipe and the tips for making it healthier and different.