Okay, this one is a bit of a splurge, especially considering my tight September Challenge budget, but after last week’s meat heavy menu I was craving bright fresh flavors. This Parsley Pesto Pasta is about as vibrant as it gets and the blistered cherry tomatoes on top give the dish a pop of color and a sweet finish to compliment the earthy garlic and Parmesan. It’s a little pricey, but I made it work.
Fresh pesto is usually a pretty pricey endeavor, thanks to the Parmesan, olive oil, fresh basil, and pine nuts. To cut corners I subbed fresh parsley for the basil and nixed the pine nuts. If you happen to have walnuts on hand, you can throw a handful into the pesto to give it just a bit more body. I also splurged a bit on a fresh lemon so that I could add the vibrant zest, but if you don’t have room in your budget for that, you can use bottled juice and just forget the zest (I’ve done it in the past and it still gets a passing grade).
The cherry tomatoes, despite being on sale, brought the price point of this dish up quite a bit. But, considering they usually run close to $4 per pint, I decided to take advantage of the reduced price and treat myself to their intense sweetness while I could. The pesto and blistered tomatoes are the “expensive” ingredients for this pasta bowl, so I bulked it up with plenty of inexpensive pasta and topped it all with a fried egg for protein. This dish may be on the expensive side (egg prices are off the chart right now, too), but I was still able to make it fit in my weekly budget by skipping a couple other small items on my list. And that’s really how it goes when you’re eating on a budget. It’s a give and take. A splurge here, a sacrifice there. But then you generally appreciate those splurges a little bit more. :)
Parsley Pesto Pasta with Blistered Tomatoes
Parsley Pesto Pasta with Blistered Tomatoes
- 1 bunch Italian (flat leaf) parsley ($0.77)
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan ($0.69)
- 2 cloves garlic ($0.16)
- 1/4 tsp salt ($0.02)
- 1 fresh lemon ($0.79)
- 6 Tbsp olive oil ($0.96)
- 1 Tbsp olive oil ($0.16)
- 2 pints cherry tomatoes ($4.00)
- salt and pepper to taste ($0.05)
- 1 lb pasta (any shape) ($1.00)
- 5 fried eggs (optional) ($1.60)
- Rinse the parsley and drain well. Pull the leaves from the stems and place them in a food processor with the Parmesan, garlic, salt, zest and juice from half the lemon (about 2 Tbsp juice). Pulse the ingredients until they are finely chopped. Slowly add the olive oil through the spout while the processor is running until a smooth paste forms. Set the pesto aside.
- Heat a large skillet over medium flame. Add one tablespoon olive oil, then tilt the skillet to coat the surface. Add the tomatoes and cook 7-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Avoid stirring the tomatoes too often to allow them time to blister on the hot skillet. As they cook the skins will burst and the tomatoes will release juice, which will thicken into a semi-sweet glaze. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Cook the pasta in the boiling water according to the package directions, or until al dente. Reserve a small amount of the starchy cooking water, then drain the pasta in a colander. Allow the pasta to cool slightly, then return it to the pot (with the heat turned off). Add the pesto, then toss to coat. If the pasta is too dry or clumps, sprinkle a little of the reserved cooking water on top to loosen.
- Divide the pasta among five bowls, top with a scoop of the blistered cherry tomatoes, scraping up some of the sweet glaze from the skillet as well. Top each bowl with a fried egg, if desired.
Step by Step Photos
Begin with the pesto so that it’s ready to go when the pasta is finished cooking. Rinse 1 bunch of parsley and let it drain well. Pull the leaves from the stems and place them in a food processor with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, 2 cloves of garlic, 1/4 tsp salt, and the zest and juice from 1/2 of a lemon (about 2 Tbsp juice).
Pulse the ingredients until they’re finely chopped and granular. This mix is actually a “gremolata” at this point, which is also very good with pasta and meat, but we’re going to add some olive oil to make it more smooth and help it coat the pasta.
While the food processor is on, slowly pour olive oil in through the spout until it’s a smooth paste. The first time I made this pesto, I used 1/2 cup olive oil. Today I found that I was able to get away with only 6 Tbsp, which helped bring the cost down a little more. Set the pesto aside until you’re ready to use it.
Rinse two pints of cherry tomatoes.
Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add 1 Tbsp olive oil. Tilt the skillet to spread the oil over the surface, then add the tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes in the hot skillet, only stirring occasionally, until they are soft and wrinkly. Avoid stirring too often to allow the skin to blister on the hot skillet. The skins will blister and crack, allowing some of the juices to escape. The juices will thicken as they cook into a sweet glaze. Season the tomatoes with salt and pepper to taste.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Cook one pound of pasta according to the package directions (boil for 7-10 minutes), or until al dente. Reserve a little of the starchy pasta water, then drain it in a colander. Allow the pasta cool a little, then return it to the pot (with the heat off). Add the prepared pesto.
Toss the pasta in the pesto. Allowing the pasta to cool a little helps prevent the Parmesan from melting and sticking to the bottom of the pot. You want it on the pasta, not the pot. ;) Add a little of the reserved pasta water if the pasta is too dry and sticks in clumps.
To build the bowls, divide the pasta between five bowls, then top with a scoop of tomatoes, and a fried egg if desired. Because I’m going to be eating this throughout the week, I portioned out the pasta and tomatoes into individual containers, but will fry the egg fresh for each meal.
Expensive for the September Challenge, but still insanely cheap compared to your local deli.