Pasta Italiano! with Basil Pesto

Pasta Italiano! with Basil Pesto

Fresh garlicky basil pesto, tangy heirloom tomatoes, golden Italian cremini mushrooms, bitter radicchio, creamy nuggets of buffalo mozzarella (ciliegine or cherry size) and my favorite addition to any Italian dish...peppadews.

Peppadews are small, mild peppers with a slightly sweet/slightly hot flavor.  I usually buy them from the olive bar at Whole Foods Market but this time I bought a jar (in the jarred olives section).  I prefer the ones that aren't labeled "sweet". The sweet ones are just too sweet for me. They "kick up" the flavor of the dish and I love to add them to my tomato-based pasta sauces.  I also enjoy stuffing them with blue cheese and eating them alongside briny olives as an appetizer.

This dish is so simple and healthy.  I used all fresh ingredients (organic when possible) and tossed them together with warm cavatappi pasta.  You can literally use any ingredients your heart desires.  The star of this dish, is really the fresh basil pesto.  If you've never made basil pesto yourself, you're in for a treat.  It's easier to make than you may have thought and the flavor is infinitely more intense and fresh than what you would buy in a store pre-made.

There are many variations of pestos, but here's how I made it this time:

Basil Pesto:
(makes 3/4 cup)
1 bunch of fresh basil, leaves only
small handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated (see Cook's note)
1/3 cup olive oil (approximate)
Kosher salt to taste

Place basil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmigiano Reggiano in food processor and pulse till mixture is finely minced.  With food processor running, drizzle olive oil through mouth of the lid. Final consistency should be that of a moist paste. Add salt to taste. You may store the pesto in your refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.  Just place in an airtight container and cover with a layer of olive oil.

Cook's note:  Parmigiano Reggiano is an ingredient I will splurge on. To me, it's well worth the extra cost and there's NO comparison to other parmesan cheeses. Parmigiano Reggiano is aged for at least 12 months, and you can find it aged for 24 months or even longer.  I'm happy with the 12 month variety.

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