Friday, August 26, 2011

Pasta Salad with Arugula Pesto

I'm not good at following recipes. Which makes me a not so good baker when it comes to anything more complicated than a muffin. For one I just can't memorize recipes very well (and by memorizing I mean remembering the tiny bit of information I read two second ago on the printed recipe that's on my counter), maybe because I'm frequently distracted by two kids who seem to be constantly talking, maybe because my short-term memory is simply really, really bad.

Also, I just don't like following directions. Sometimes I'm too lazy and try to take a shortcut. Or I don't like a particular ingredient and just substitute for something else. Now, I know I should try the recipe as written first and then make my changes to it, but often I just improvise as I go. 

The recipe below for a pasta salad with arugula pesto is a good combination of all of that. It started with one of those recipe newsletters in my inbox. The recipe sounded good, so I copied it to my Evernote file where I keep all inspiration I come across. I even managed to print it, mainly because I find it annoying to always tap the iPhone screen again to prevent it from going black just as I wanted to read the next step. Anyway, I had briefly scanned over the ingredients and instructions and decided it sounded good. I mean, it's a pasta salad with pesto and contains such things as almonds and bell peppers - that sounds good, right? And arugula! I have tons of that stuff growing outside my kitchen window (well, three plants actually. But it's more than I can eat). So this was the point where I sort of stopped reading because I thought I had figured it all out.

Couple of days later I pulled the recipe out and was actually going to make the salad. I had soaked the almonds ahead of time to loosen the skins and as the pasta boiled I was ready to make my pesto. Then I read the recipe again, this time all the way. Oops. The "pesto" consisted of arugula, pasta cooking water, lemon juice and olive oil being pureed together while the almonds got sauteed together with diced bell peppers, onion and garlic.

What?! Excuse me?! What kind of a pesto is that? And why do you need to sautee peppers and onions for a salad? I took one look at my arugula and almonds and quickly decided to change the recipe. So the almonds went into the blender (actually I use a tall mixing bowl and an immersion blender since I don't own a food processor) together with the garlic, lemon juice, arugula, some parmesan (doesn't hurt, right?) and olive oil, while the onions were left out (sorry guys) and the red pepper got diced and added straight to the salad without sauteeing since that a) gave some crunch and freshness to the salad and b) meant no pan to clean. Personally I liked the result so much that I never tried making the original recipe, but if you care to try, you can find it here. This, however, is my version:

Pasta Salad with Arugula Pesto (adapted from essen&trinken)

1 package (500g) short pasta, my favorite for salads is Barilla's piccolini line: miniature versions of penne rigate or farfalle, the tend to mix better with the other ingredients

1 bunch of arugula
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 cup almonds, skinned
1/3 cup parmesan, broken into small chunks
1 lemon
Salt, pepper to taste (with the arugula being quite peppery you won't need a lot of pepper)
Olive oil
1-2 cups small mozzarella balls

Cook pasta until al dente, reserve some of cooking water before draining. Rinse to stop cooking process and transfer to large bowl.

Meanwhile, puree almonds, some lemon juice, parmesan and chopped arugula using a blender or food processor. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary. Puree, slowly adding olive oil, until you reach a consistency you like, thinning with pasta cooking water as necessary. Remember you're making a salad dressing here, so you want a thinner consistency than you would for a regular pesto.

Add to pasta along with diced pepper and drained mozzarella balls. Let sit for a few minutes and adjust seasoning.

Now, you could also add some of the chopped arugula directly to the salad and also diced tomatoes would work here. Adding some basil to the pesto is also nice. And the small mozarella balls can just as easily be replaced by regular mozzarella, diced.

Anyone else out there who has a hard time following recipes or remembering the correct amount of flour to sift even though you just read it?

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