creamy pesto pasta salad

For as long as I can remember, pasta salad has been one of my favorite summertime meals. First, there isn’t much actual cooking that happens with a pasta salad. This is key. When it is 90 degrees outside, I simply cannot stomach the thought of turning on my oven.

Secondly, there is so much creative liscence one can take with a cold pasta salad. The possibilities are endless! You can use any type of noodle for the base and then go nuts adding add in cheese(s), veggies, fruits, oils, vinegars, proteins, nuts, etc. I usually use pasta salad as an excuse to use up whatever random veggies I have in the fridge.

This particular pasta salad is one I’ve been dreaming up for awhile. I do read a lot of other food blogs (because I am a nerd), and have noticed a lot of pea & pesto combinations recently. I suppose it is the season for basil and peas, so the influx of pea/pesto recipes is not surprising. That being said, I just like the look of little green peas in a pasta salad. Especially when coupled with the rich green of a fresh basil pesto, there is just something so nice looking about a pesto and pea pasta. The other day I realized that I had a bunch of pine nuts on hand, fresh basil (growing in my kitchen window), and had a bag of frozen peas. It was time to make a delicious pea & pesto inspired pasta salad.

Nich & I trotted over to Pasta Works, to pick up some fresh pasta and pecorino romano cheese. I threw together the pesto, using the organic purple garlic I had on hand and noticed right away that this pesto was SPICY. I only used two cloves (and a dash of red chili flakes) of the purple garlic, but they really packed a punch. Granted, I love the flavor of garlic, but I didn’t want the basil to be overpowered So, I added in some extra basil, a few mint sprigs, fresh lemon juice and some greek yogurt to mellow it out. The yogurt really elevated the pesto to a whole new level. To be clear – this is not a traditional pesto. The addition of the yogurt makes it more of a ‘creamy pesto sauce’. Whatever you want to call it – it was awesome. And really great for pasta salad. (Plus, Nich says its the best pesto he’s ever had. I think he really meant it, as he ate on this pasta salad for 3 days, with no complaints.)

I based the pesto on Mark Bittman’s recipe (from How to Cook Everything), but did a lot of tweaking/additions.

Creamy Pesto Pasta Salad (with Peas!)

1 lb bag of pasta (bowtie, penne, fusili, etc)
2 cups of basil leaves, big stems discarded, rinsed and dried
Salt to taste
½ to 2 cloves garlic, crushed (I used organic purple garlic. spicy & delicious!)
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry skillet
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, or more
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, Parmesean or other hard cheese
1/2 cup Greek Yogurt
The leaves from 2-3 sprigs of fresh mint
The juice of 1/2 of a lemon
A dash of red chili flakes
1 bag of frozen green peas (thawed, rinsed, & patted dry)

Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Cook pasta until al dente. Drain, rinse with cold water, and set aside for later.

Combine the basil, mint, salt, garlic, chili flakes, pine nuts, lemon juice and about half the oil in a food processor or blender.

Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the container occasionally, and adding the rest of the oil gradually. Add additional oil if you prefer a thinner mixture. Stir in the parmesan & greek yogurt by hand just before serving.

Toss the (thawed) peas, cooked pasta, and creamy pesto mixture together. Chill before serving, and garnish with pine nuts or finely chopped basil/mint (if you so desire).

As a warning, this makes a lot of pasta salad…Nich & I ate on this for 3 days!

3 Responses

  1. ms. tea says:

    if you want to take the flavor combo to the next level, try my favorite of pasta (hot or cold) with pesto, peas and gorgonzola cheese. sometimes i throw in some toasted pine nuts or walnuts when i am feeling extra classy.

    i like the yogurt and lemon idea, sounds really bright and springy!

  2. Rachael says:

    This sounds really good! I’ve got a bunch of fresh basil I need to use up so maybe I’ll try making the pesto from scratch. I’ve been looking for some tasty cold salad options to take to work with me. This sounds perfect – especially since you use Greek yogurt (I can’t stand mayo-y salads).

  3. Rachael says:

    I just made this and added hard-boiled eggs for protein. Really, really good!

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