Fridge Dive Pesto Pasta

Ever do a dumpster dive? Although that doesn’t sound very appealing when discussing food, this recipe is a culinary version of said activity. On weekends, Russ often concocts a “clean-out-the-frig frittata” for breakfast; and on occasion I use a similar tactic for a regular pasta dinner. Bon Appétit featured the “Frig Dive” recipe recently and got me to thinking…

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This vegetarian pesto pasta recipe is the solution for any leftover hardy green, lettuce, or herb you don’t know what to do with. Who knew cleaning out your fridge could be so rewarding? To be even more eco-thrifty, you can also do a pantry raid like we did and combine a couple of partially-used pastas. The key is to use pasta shapes that have some ridges, waves or curls that will “cuddle” the pesto as opposed to flat strips like fettucine or spaghetti where it wouldn’t cradle it and thus fall off.

Using a large scale food processor to grind the tiny sesame seeds didn’t seem appropriate so I ground them in a small spice grinder first then transferred them to the larger food processor. To smash the garlic cloves, I gave a good whack to each one with a meat mallet—you could also achieve this effect with the side of a chef’s knife. While the cloves were browning in the heavy pot, I broke them apart a bit more using a wooden spatula.

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Smashing the garlic loves with a meat mallet.

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The sesame seeds were processed in a spice grinder.

For added toppings, I used toasted pine nuts in place of sesame seeds and a generous dose of crushed red pepper flakes along with the grated ricotta salata. After we made this, we thought why boil the tender herbs (we used parsley and marjoram) with the greens? To get their full flavor, we think it’s better to add them directly to the food processor along with the other ingredients; otherwise the flavor and aromas are boiled out of the herbs. So our directions below reflect the alterations.

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Ricotta Salata is easily grated on a box grater.

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Ingredients

  • ½ red onion, quartered through root end
  • 8 cups torn mixed greens and tender herbs
  • Kosher salt
  • ¼ cup toasted sesame seeds, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup grated ricotta salata (salted dry ricotta), divided
  • 3 tablespoons plus ¼ cup olive oil; plus more for drizzling
  • 8 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 12 ounces tripoline or mafaldine (wavy-edged ribbon pasta) or fusilli (spiral-shaped pasta)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter

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In a food processor, add ground sesame, tender herbs and greens/onion mixture and ¼ cup ricotta salata and process until a coarse paste forms. (I forgot to boil the onions with the greens, so I threw them into the processor raw.)

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Cook onion and mixed greens in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender.

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Using tongs, transfer to a bowl of ice water and swish around in the water to cool down as quickly as possible.

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Drain and gently squeeze (or use a salad spinner) to remove excess liquid, then press between a double layer of paper towels.

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With motor running, stream in oil and process, adding water by the tablespoonful if needed to thin, until pesto is very smooth.

Directions

  • Cook onion and mixed greens in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 2 minutes. Using a spider or tongs, transfer to a bowl of ice water and swish around in the water to cool down as quickly as possible (this helps retain the bright color). Drain and gently squeeze to remove excess liquid, then press between a double layer of paper towels to remove as much remaining liquid as possible. Reserve pot with greens cooking liquid.
  • Process ¼ cup sesame seeds in a food processor until finely ground. Add onion, tender herbs and greens mixture and ¼ cup ricotta salata and process until a coarse paste forms. With motor running, stream in 3 Tbsp. oil and process, adding water by the tablespoonful if needed to thin, until pesto is very smooth.
  • Heat ¼ cup oil in a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot over medium. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add pesto and cook, stirring, until sauce looks like most of the moisture has been cooked out, about 1 minute.
  • Meanwhile, bring reserved pot of greens cooking liquid to a boil and cook pasta, stirring occasionally, until very al dente, about 3 minutes less than package directions.
  • Using tongs, transfer pasta to pot with pesto and add ½ cup pasta cooking liquid. Cook, tossing, until each strand of pasta is coated. Remove from heat, add butter, and toss to combine.
  • Divide pasta among bowls. Top with more sesame seeds (or pine nuts) and remaining ¼ cup ricotta salata and drizzle with oil. If desired, shake on some crushed red pepper flakes.

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In a large Dutch oven, add garlic and cook, stirring often, until golden brown.

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Next, add pesto and cook, stirring, until sauce looks like most of the moisture has been cooked out.

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Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer pasta to pot with pesto and add ½ cup pasta cooking liquid.

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Remove from heat, add butter, and toss to combine.

Recipe adapted from Claire Saffitz of Bob Appétit

 

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