Two wonderful friends we’ve met in the journey of graduate school are now leaving the US to go to Germany for career opportunities. This past Saturday, Kris and I hosted several lab mates in a going away dinner party. We’re living on a grad student and teacher salary, so of course it was a pot luck.
As hosts, we were responsible for the main entree, and I chose my favorite go-to for a large dinner party, Make-Your-Own-Spaghetti. No, not making homemade pasta (though that would be fun), but having one large bowl of pasta with 3 different sauces. The sauces this past dinner: arugula pesto, creamy alfredo, and marinara sauce with homemade meatballs.
It’s so much fun to have dinner parties where the guests help create their plate and food experience, and I don’t just mean bringing something for the pot luck.
This pesto was invented from my base pesto recipe, with a couple of small but absolutely delicious changes. The first comes from the cooking blog Simply Recipes. Elise, the author, has an amazing secret for getting a subtle garlic flavor without the sometimes overpowering shock of raw garlic: roasting the garlic quickly on the stovetop before adding it to the food processor. Genius!!
Of course, next comes my mistake of sometimes not reading recipes fully (I know, and then ironically I post recipes on my blog). Technically you’re not supposed to use oil, you just cook the garlic in a pan, but I added a little olive oil, then added my pine nuts in to toast up while things were heating up.
Ooophs at first, but by the end, my mistake became delicious! The nuts brown up FAST, almost burning in my case. You really have to watch them and get them OFF AND OUT of the heat as soon as you see brown color and smell its nutty perfume.
One guest, who’d lived for half a year in the Andalucia region of Spain on a WWOOF experience, told me it reminded him of salads he’d had while in Southern Spain. He was working with a botanist who’d go out around dinner time and gather wild greens, including rocket (another name for arugula) for salads. He said the pesto reminded him of those salads, “Some of the best I’ve ever eaten.”
The pesto has a spicy kick; it’s spunky, full-flavored and downright demands the full attention of your taste buds.
Use a food processor if you can, or a blender if you have to, and if you really must, because you live in the stone age or are some kind of pesto purist, a mortar and pestle.
2 cups baby arugula (if using wild, be sure to trim the woody stems, baby arugula doesn’t need this extra step though)
5 garlic cloves (4 with skin on, 1 peeled and chopped)
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil
1. In a medium saute pan, heat up 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add 4 cloves of garlic with skin still on. Cook over medium heat for 5-7 minutes.
2. Add 1/2 cup pine nuts to the pan and toast for 3 minutes or so. BE SO VERY CAREFUL, the pine nuts burn very easily, but their aroma will permeate your entire house with nuttiness. (As if my house needed anymore nuttiness:-)
3. While these brown up, place the following ingredients in a food processor: the arugula (put this down first to create a bed for everything else), Parmesan cheese, lemon zest and juice.
4. Once the nuts are gently browned, QUICKLY take them out of the pan and add to the food processor. Yes, I mean quick, don’t let them stay in that hot pan where they might burn on you and ruin everything.
5. Take the skins off the roasted garlic and add them to the food processor. Also chop up the 1 clove of raw garlic and add to the processor.
6. Pulse everything in the processor until it combines into a gorgeous green paste. Scrape sides if necessary, usually it is.
7. Place processor on “on” and stream in olive oil until it makes a smooth texture, not too thick, not too thin. You want a texture that can be spread on bread or can coat spaghetti.