Thursday, December 12, 2013

White Pesto Pasta with Kale Chips

As a stubborn blanket of snow continues to keep Eugene at a standstill, creative cooking with pantry items is a necessity. This white pesto sauce from Mark Bitmann fits the bill, being prepared from an end piece of stale bread, a dribble of milk, and some nuts. From these humble staples you produce a rich sauce that tastes like an alfredo, without requiring the treacherous trip to the store for a pint of heavy cream. 

If you are lucky enough to have some greens in your crisper, by all means add these to your meal for extra color and to ward off scurvyYou could serve the pasta on a bed of raw greens, or toss the greens into the pasta water for a quick blanch at the last minute. 

I used our last bunch of kale to make a batch of the child-friendly chlorophyll vehicle of kale chips, which added a nice crunchy contrast to the creamy pasta. Now that we've polished off the last of our fresh vegetables, I'll be resorting to the bag of peas in the freezer normally reserved for soothing bumps and bruises. Let's hope the ice thaws.

White Pesto Pasta with Kale Chips
adapted from Mark Bitmann's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
1 thick slice Italian bread, or equivalent amount of any white loaf
1/2 cup milk
1 cup walnut halves
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram leaves (optional)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound pasta

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place the bread in a small bowl, cover it with milk, and let it soak.

2. If you like, roast the garlic cloves in a hot skillet until softened, then peel. Combine the nuts, garlic, cheese, and marjoram (if using) in a food processor and, with the machine running, slowly add the oil in a steady stream, adding just enough oil so that the mixture forms a very thick paste. Now add the bread-and-milk mixture and enough water to make a sort of saucy mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Cook the pasta until tender. Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water. Toss the pasta with the sauce and, if the mixture appears too thick, thin it with a little of the pasta cooking water or more olive oil. Pass more Parmesan on the side. And if you like, serve with kale chips, recipe below.

kale chips
1 bunch kale
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Rinse the kale leaves and dry well. Cut or tear the leaves from the stem and tear into bite sized pieces. In a big bowl, toss the leaves with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and mix well with you hands, massaging in the oil. Lay out on cookie sheets in a single layer and bake for about 10 or 15 minutes until they are crispy but before they start to get very brown (at which point they become more bitter). Serve at once. You can store them in an airtight container if you have any left, but we never do.

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