Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pasta with Pea Pesto and Bacon

There are approximately ten billion varieties of basil now growing in our garden. Or four, if you like precision, but you know what I say? I say precision is for bakers. Bakers can have four varieties of basil. I have ten billion. Ten billion basils basking in the sun, reminding me incessantly of pesto. I'm like the greedy cartoon characters with dollar signs in their eyes, only mine are full of pasta.

The thing is, though, they are small, fledgling basils. Not yet fully grown. And when you have only ten billion (four) fledgling basils, you can't really make pesto. You need, by my hyperbolic calculations, approximately six gazillion fledgling basils to make pesto. What's a slightly unhinged, grant-deadline-racing, pesto-obsessed cook to do?

Answer: Peas. (Other possible acceptable answers include: 42, and get some sleep for goodness sakes.)

Seriously, make this. It's delightful. If you have fresh peas, use them, and I'm thinking that some asparagus thinly sliced at an angle would make it even better.

Fresh linguine or tagliolini for two
1 1/2 cups frozen peas, blanched and drained
1/3 cup packed fresh basil leaves
(use a bit more if it's regular sweet basil, or a bit less if it's a stronger variety like fino verde)
2-3 tbsp lightly toasted pine nuts
2 large cloves garlic, one whole and one slivered
Olive oil
2 slices Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon, sliced crosswise into thin strips*
Dry white cooking wine
Several handfuls baby arugula and/or coarsely chopped amaranth greens (1/3 lb or a bit less)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus a few shavings for garnish
Freshly ground white pepper

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta.

Combine the peas, basil, whole clove of garlic, and pine nuts in a Cuisinart and blend until smooth.

Heat a wide saute pan over medium heat. When very hot, add just a bit of olive oil, followed by the bacon. Cook until it starts to turn golden (you can remove some of the bacon grease at this point, if you want, and add a bit more olive oil in its place), then lower the heat and toss in the slivered garlic. Cook for another minute or so until the garlic is tender.

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes or until al dente.

Meanwhile, add the pesto to the bacon and stir to combine. Allow it to warm through, then add a slosh of wine to help thin. Turn off the heat, and add the greens.

Reserve a ladleful or two of pasta water, then drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the sauce. Toss to combine, adding pasta water as needed to thin the sauce (add just a little bit more than you think you need if the pasta is homemade, since it will soak up a bit more liquid on the way to the table). Stir in the grated parmesan.

Serve hot, with a little freshly ground white pepper and some shaved Parmesan over the top.

Serves 2.

*If you double the recipe, you only need three strips of bacon (rather than four).

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