Friday, October 10, 2014

In Celebration of National Pasta Month, Roasted Tomato & Hazelnut Pesto Carbonara

By posting this recipe I am entering a contest sponsored by the National Pasta Association and am eligible to win prizes associated with this contest.  I was not compensated for my time.

I know what you’re thinking.  Pasta carbonara is a bacon-and-egg pasta.  Roasted tomato and hazelnut pesto doesn’t sound like carbonara.

There’s a story behind this dish.  Many years ago, I worked on a project in Seattle called Seeds of Compassion, where we brought together leaders in the science and practice of peace to create a multi-generational dialogue about how to practice peace in our schools, businesses, neighborhoods, faith communities, governments and the world.

The project was fast and furious, coming together in a very short time with the dedication of a passionate team of volunteers and visionary leaders.  Working on the Development and Communications team, I have never worked so hard, felt so much emotion, experienced my own limitations or realized my own potential.  It was an intense and transformational experience.

In times of stress like these, we all have comfort food dishes we fall back on—those dishes that fill us up, warm our souls, nourish us.  During my work on Seeds of Compassion, my comfort food was my own healthy version of pasta carbonara.  Created in desperation one night out of an almost-empty refrigerator, the bones of this dish were born—dried whole wheat pasta, eggs, parmesan cheese and leftover vegetables became a lightning-quick fiber- and protein-rich dinner that satisfied me on every level. I ate a version almost every night after that until the project was done.

Since October is National Pasta Month, it seems a good time to share this recipe. 

Anyone who knows me well knows I could eat pasta almost every night.  It’s my ultimate comfort food meal, and one I feel good about eating.  Whole wheat pasta is a good source of fiber, and paired with lots of vegetables and a good source of protein, it’s a complete meal-in-a-bowl. 

Carbonara is my favorite.  Instead of traditional bacon or pancetta, I boost the flavor and nutrition of this pasta with whatever vegetables or herbs I have on hand—roasted broccoli, sautéed kale, grilled zucchini, or fresh spinach or arugula.  Combined with a creamy (but creamless!) egg sauce, the pasta becomes alchemy.  True pasta carbonara is enriched with only eggs—not cream—which adds satisfying protein to the dish as well.

Last week, I was craving carbonara.  I had some oven-dried tomatoes and hazelnut pesto in the freezer, both of which I had made this summer.  I quickly thawed them both and tossed them into the pasta, along with some fresh spinach.  It’s a perfect, nourishing dinner.  Feel free to substitute whatever vegetables you have in your refrigerator to make this healthy, filling, easy and inexpensive comfort food meal.  And then share it with someone you love!

Roasted Tomato & Hazelnut Pesto Carbonara

Serves 6

1 pound dried whole wheat spaghetti or fettuccini
6 whole eggs, preferably organic
½ cup grated parmesan cheese
Zest of one lemon
Pinch of red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons hazelnut pesto, or a prepared pesto (see recipe, below)
12 oven-dried tomatoes or jarred sun-dried tomatoes (click link for recipe)
2 cups fresh spinach or arugula

Cook pasta in boiling well-salted water for 2 minutes less than package directions.

In the meantime, add the eggs, parmesan cheese, lemon zest, red pepper flakes and pesto to a large bowl.  Whisk together until very well combined.  Gently whisk in the oven-dried tomatoes.  Add the spinach or arugula.

When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving 1 cup of the pasta water.  Add the drained pasta to the bowl with the egg mixture, stirring well. 

Place the pot the pasta cooked in back on the stove over low heat.  Add ½ cup of the pasta water to the pot, along with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the pasta and egg mixture to the pot, stirring vigorously for 1 – 2 minutes, until the egg mixture has thickened and the spinach or arugula has wilted.  Add additional reserved pasta water to thin the sauce as desired.

Enjoy, preferably with someone you love!

Hazelnut Pesto

4 cups fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup toasted hazelnuts
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Zest of one lemon
1/3 - 1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Add basil, hazelnuts, salt, red pepper flakes and lemon zest to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until a paste forms.  With the processor running, pour in the olive oil until you get your desired consistency.  Scrape the mixture into a bowl and then stir in the cheese.  Pour a layer of olive oil over the top and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for three to four days.  Or, you can freeze it for up to three months.

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