Penne with Red-Pepper Walnut Pesto

Penne with Red-Pepper Walnut Pesto

Toasted walnut pesto takes on the sweetness of roasted red peppers and sun-dried tomatoes in this unique variation. Toss the pesto with pasta for an elegant week night meal. 

Ingredients

  • Half a large red bell pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3/4 cup California walnuts, finely chopped
  • 3/8 cup sun-dried tomatoes
  • Handful of fresh basil, plus 4-5 leaves for garnish
  • 3/8 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3/8 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-pound box of whole grain penne

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Halve and trim red pepper and, when oven is heated, place half skin-side down on oven rack (or use a pan if preferred). Roast 15-20 minutes, or until skin is well shriveled (but not blackened).
  2. Meanwhile, place garlic cloves in medium saucepan, add cold water to cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, or until soft enough to pierce with a fork. Remove garlic using a slotted spoon (keeping water in pan), and set aside to drain. Meanwhile, quickly toast chopped walnuts in a warmed frying pan (without oil), stirring consistently, over medium-high heat just until they start to turn golden. Remove from heat and place on paper towels.
  3. Place sun-dried tomatoes in saucepan containing reserved water, adding more water to cover as necessary. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Simmer 8-10 minutes. Remove using a slotted spoon (keeping water in pan), and set aside to drain, blotting well with paper towels. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath. Blanch basil very briefly (3-4 seconds) in still-warm reserved water, then quickly transfer to ice bath. Drain and dry basil thoroughly with paper towels.
  4. Thoroughly dry all above ingredients with paper towels as necessary, then place in a blender or processor, adding 3/8 cup cheese, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend, adding oil incrementally, until smooth and pastelike. Set pesto aside.
  5. Prepare pasta according to directions on box and drain, reserving some (1/4-3/8 cup) starchy pasta water. Transfer pesto to large serving bowl and add pasta, mixing in pasta water incrementally to taste (you may not need to use it all) to keep moist and lend a creamy consistency.
  6. Garnish dish with basil. Serve pasta with additional grated cheese.

Note: Pesto recipe can also be doubled; freeze other half and use within a month. When storing, top pesto with some additional extra-virgin olive oil to keep from drying out.