More light and refreshing than a cream-based sauce or a chunky ragu, pesto makes for an excellent accompaniment to pasta during the hot summer months.
It couldn’t be easier to make; just process fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, salty Parmesan cheese and extra-virgin olive oil together in a food processor.
However, a few challenges arose when we tried to transform the simple sauce into a cold pasta salad topping. When we tossed the pesto directly with hot pasta, the sauce became separated and greasy as the pasta cooled.
We found that spreading the pasta on a baking sheet for about half an hour before adding the pesto was enough to adequately combat the problem. To help prevent the pesto from turning dark over time, we added a handful of baby spinach, which set the bright green color but was mild enough in flavor to let the basil shine.
Finally, we found that adding some mayonnaise was the perfect way to give our pesto the clingy, thick texture ideal for a pasta salad.
We finished off our salad by reserving some of the toasted pine nuts to add a nice nutty crunch and tossed in sweet cherry tomatoes for a bright burst of freshness.
Other pasta shapes can be substituted for the farfalle.
PASTA SALAD WITH PESTO
Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 minutes
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 pound farfalle
Salt and pepper
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups fresh basil leaves, lightly bruised
1 cup baby spinach
3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
11/2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (3/4 cup), plus extra for serving
6 tablespoons mayonnaise
12 ounces cherry tomatoes, quartered
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large pot. Add the garlic, and cook for 1 minute. Remove garlic with a slotted spoon, and rinse under cold water to stop cooking. Let garlic cool slightly, then peel and chop fine; set aside.
Meanwhile, add the pasta and 1 tablespoon salt to the boiling water, and cook, stirring often, until tender. Reserve 1/4 cup cooking water.
Drain pasta, toss with 1 tablespoon oil and spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Let pasta and cooking water cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
Process the basil, spinach, 1/4 cup pine nuts, lemon juice, garlic and 1 teaspoon salt in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add the Parmesan, mayonnaise and remaining 1/4 cup oil, and process until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a large bowl.
Toss cooled pasta with pesto, adding reserved cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until pesto evenly coats pasta. Fold in remaining 1/2 cup pine nuts and the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve.
If making this dish ahead, the cooled pasta can be tossed with half of the pesto and refrigerated for up to 3 days; refrigerate remaining pesto separately, covered with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. To serve, microwave pasta to remove chill, 1-2 minutes, then toss pasta with reserved pesto, adding hot water as needed, 1 tablespoon at a time, until pasta is evenly coated, and continue with the last step.
Nutrition information per serving: 482 calories; 250 calories from fat; 28 g fat (4 g saturated, 0 g trans fats); 9 mg cholesterol; 316 mg sodium; 47 g carbohydrate; 3 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 11 g protein.