A Healthy, Hearty Pesto (Heart of the Matter 23)

I don’t know why, but whenever I mention anything about healthy eating to LB, he persists in making faces like it’s the last thing in the world he can imagine doing. As if the concept of eating delicious foods such as oatmeal, quinoa, barley, nuts, fresh vegetables and fruits is just far too “crunchy” for him...oh, and did I mention he was a Deadhead? Doesn't make sense, does it? Maybe the stigma of “healthy = bland & boring” is still attached to healthy food in his eyes. You’d think after eating healthy meals like Kabocha Squash Pizza with Kale and Fresh Sage and Tuscan-Style Roasted Chicken with Vegetables, and even decadent Caramel Macadamia Nut Sticky Buns, that he would know better. Apparently that is not the case. (Men!)

Recently, when I mentioned that he had two choices for dinner – a Morrocan-style chicken dish or a walnut, parsley and flax pesto on pasta, it elicited the same sour face as if he was five years old and I’d just asked him to eat his creamed peas (which, I’m sure, are also delicious).** Little did he know that no matter which option he chose, he was still getting both – just on different days. Truth be told, I wasn’t sure a walnut, parsley and flax pesto was going to be any good either, but I thought we might as well give it a try since I am always on the look out for alternative pasta toppings – especially if they are healthy, and even better if they are packed with omega-3-fatty acids, which this recipe just happens to be. You can read more about flax seeds and omega-3s (and get a killer granola recipe to boot) from my favorite go-to nutritionist blogger, Melissa, here and here.

**Sidenote: I learned this trick from my older sister with my nieces. She gives the kids two [healthy] options and let’s them choose. Then they feel like they are making the decision, and she knows that no matter what they decide, it’ll be a good choice in her eyes. Works wonders with grown men, too.

The original recipe can be found here. And I can’t really take the credit for it, because it belongs to that all-American homemaking icon, Martha Stewart (can’t you just see her telling you to eat your creamed peas?). I put my own measurements on it because I was lazy (see below), and added some extra pizzazz by throwing in some sautéed local oyster mushrooms. If I’d had them, I’d have also added some beautiful cherry tomatoes, for color even more than flavor. Or instead of tomatoes, some thin slices of Canadian bacon would also be lovely (and still healthy!). But I have to tell you - it’s surprisingly good on its own, even without the accoutrements.

I served it with whole wheat angel hair pasta, and the bright flavors of the pungent parsley stands up well to the hearty wheaty-ness of the pasta. This is a wonderful, quick and healthy dinner for any busy night of the week, and it’s my entry for the Heart of the Matter (HotM) this month, where the theme for heart-healthy cooking this month is “Slimmer Recipes.” After all that decadent holiday food, we could all probably use a few slimmer recipes in our repertoire, right? Check out the round-up at the HotM blog after January 28th to see the wonderful recipes that have been submitted from around the world. Or maybe you have a slimmer, heart-healthy recipe you’d like to share? There’s still time to get your entry in to Ilva at her blog, Lucullian Delights, who is hosting this month. We would love to have you join us – the more, the merrier, and it brings even more awareness about heart health and heart disease.

Walnut, Parsley and Flax Pesto on Angel Hair Pasta, serves 4
adapted slightly from www.wholeliving.com

8 oz. whole wheat angel hair pasta
1/4 cup walnuts, raw
several large mushrooms (I used local oyster mushrooms), thinly sliced
2 tsp. olive oil, divided
3 tablespoons ground flaxseeds (if they aren't already, grind them in a spice or coffee grinder)
1 large bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
freshly ground pepper

Preheat your oven to 375F. Start a large pot of ample salted water and cook the pasta until it is al dente. Drain when finished, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts in the oven until they are crisp and fragrant, about 7 minutes.

Saute' the sliced mushrooms in a skillet with ~2 tsp. olive oil until they release most of their water and become soft and slighly browned.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the walnuts until the nuts are crushed and somewhat ground, about 1 minute. Add parsley, garlic, 1 tsp. olive oil, Parmesan, salt, pepper, and reserved 1/4 cup of pasta water; pulse until smooth and thick. Add the pesto to the warm pasta, adding a little more pasta water if it appears too thick or does not coat the pasta evenly. Garnish with extra freshly grated parmesan cheese.

You could easily double the pesto recipe, and it can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week in a refrigerator or up to 1 month in a freezer (freeze it in an ice-cube tray for easy use!). Bring pesto to room temperature before serving; supposedly it' s not good to heat pesto because it ruins the flavor of the delicate herbs.