Thursday, November 1, 2012

Roasted Artichoke Pesto

Do you know what kind of pasta is so very simple, but when it hits the plate, looks gourmet?  That's right, you guessed it, pesto pasta!  It is one of those dishes that looks and tastes like you spent lots of time in the kitchen, slaving over some secret recipe, when in reality most pestos can come together in about 15 minutes.  Try it, invite some friends over, preferrably ones who don't know how to cook and make a pesto for them.  They'll think you're the new Food Network star.

A traditional pesto typically has fresh basil, olive oil, garlic, salt, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese.  That's the one I usually make, minus the pine nuts because I don't always keep them on hand.  I also add sun-dried tomatoes quite a bit.  It's my daughter's favorite pasta dish.  Most of the time I cook a couple of chicken breasts in the same type of seasonings as the pesto, then cut it up into bite-size pieces and toss it with the pasta and pesto sauce.  It's amazing that something so easy is so delicious.

I love pestos, in part, because of their versatilty.  Don't have pasta; want to try something different?  Use it in place of traditional pizza sauce, spread on some toasted bread, or maybe stuff a chicken breast with it.  You can be just as creative with the ingredients, too.  What if you don't have pine nuts?  Use walnuts, they are awesome in pesto.  What if you don't have fresh basil?  Make a different kind of pesto.  A couple of months ago I made some fresh pasta and a lemon broccoli pesto.  It was outstanding!  (Not to toot my own horn but WOOT, WOOT!)  Or try using Italian flat leaf parsley in place of the basil.  Get creative, use what you like, play around with it.  You can't really screw it up.

I really need to go grocery shopping, I mean REALLY need to go shopping, because my pantry is almost bare, as well as my freezer.  I was in the mood for pesto but didn't have fresh basil or pine nuts.  Okay, so take my own advice and make a different kind, right?  Well, I didn't have broccoli or sun-dried tomatoes, either.  What's a girl to do?  Dig deep in my pantry to find something that will work.  That's where this pesto came from.  I had a can of artichokes hearts, some flat leaf parsley and a roma tomato that needed to be used.  I always have olive oil, lemon juice and garlic on hand, so we were in business.  Roasted artichoke pesto came into being. 

Now, before you wrinkle your nose and tell me you don't like artichokes, let me remind you of one thing.  That attitude doesn't fly in my house.  You have to try it before you say you don't like it.  Also, with all the other things going on in the pesto, the artichokes aren't the predominant flavor.  Actually, there really isn't one singular breakout flavor.  They all blend really well together, and turn into a nice, light, but complex pesto.

Because we are roasting, this pesto takes about 45 minutes, as opposed to a normal one that comes together a lot quicker.  It's worth the wait though.  Here's your Cast of Characters.

1 Can of artichoke hearts, drained
1 Bunch of Italian flat leaf parsley (Do not get the curly parsley.  It is really best as garnish, and does not taste the same as Italian flat leaf.)
1 Roma tomato
6-8 Cloves of garlic (I used 4 medium and 4 large cloves.  It wasn't too garlicky but just right.)
1/4 Cup + 2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 Teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1 Teaspoon freshly ground pepper, divided
1 1/2 Teaspoons lemon pepper, divided
1/2 Teaspoon Lawry's season salt
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Lb. box linguine or spaghetti
1/2 Cup reserved pasta water
1/4 Pecorino Romano cheese, grated + a little extra to sprinkle when served

Preheat oven to 425.  Chop tomato, and peel garlic.  For large cloves, cut into 2 or 3 pieces.

In a small mixing bowl, combine artichoke hearts, tomatoes, garlic, 2 Tbsp. olive oil, 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1/2 tsp. pepper and 1/2 tsp. lemon pepper.  Toss to combine and coat evenly with olive oil.

Spread evenly on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and roast for 25 - 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through.  When there are 5 minutes left in roasting time, start boiling your water, salting it generously.  Cook the linguine until al dente, about 11 1/2 minutes.  When the artichokes mixture is roasted, pull from the oven.  It should be nicely browned by this point.

Place in a food processor (or a blender could be used).

Cut stems from parsley and add into the processor.

Add remaining 1/4 cup olive oil, lemon juice, Lawry's, 1/2 tsp. each, kosher salt and pepper and 1 tsp. lemon pepper.  Blend on high, until chopped well.  When pasta is done, take 1/2 cup pasta water out before draining it.  Place pasta back in pan, and add pasta water to the food processor.  Blend on high another minute.

Scrape all the contents into your pan of pasta.  Stir or use tongs to coat the noodles well with the pesto.

Add 1/4 cup of Pecorino and toss again.

Serve immediately.  Sprinkle with a little extra Pecorino.

Look closely.  You can see the bits of artichoke and chunks of garlic, but when you taste it, you are not getting individual flavors but instead are experiencing a nice melding of complimentary ingredients.  Enjoy!