It’s technically spring, but with a few inches of snow still on the ground, it doesn’t really feel like it yet. It doesn’t really feel like winter anymore either, with temperatures stuck around the 30s. While we’re in season limbo, it can be difficult to figure out what to cook. I’m sick enough of winter that heavier dishes are no longer very appealing, but it’s still cool enough that I feel like I should take advantage of cooking with heat before the temperatures shoot up. (Ha. Who am I kidding? That’s still months away.)
The solution? Homemade pasta with a light, fresh sauce. Instead of making a traditional basil pesto, I decided to use watercress (thanks to my New Year’s resolution to use a new ingredient each month). I didn’t have the highest of hopes for the pesto after tasting a plain piece of watercress, but it turned out really, really well. Like some-of-the-best-pesto-I’ve-ever-made well. The toasted walnuts and heavy-handed use of fresh lemon juice definitely contributed to the success, but the watercress was still the star.
For the pasta, I tried a new dough recipe, and it was perfection. It requires two ingredients (semolina and water) and creates a dough that is super easy to work with. It was so easy that we had no problem rolling out the dough by hand and slicing it with a pizza cutter instead of using my KitchenAid pasta discs, which was a relief considering I recently destroyed the disc for making flat noodles.
To finish the dish I added boiled potatoes and blanched green beans (pasta al pesto genovese according to Silver Spoon Pasta). This dish is a keeper, and it will definitely be making more appearances in my kitchen regardless of the season.
- 1 bunch (or about a cup) watercress
- 1/3 cup walnuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup grated parmesan
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- Juice of 1/2 lemon (or more)
- Olive oil
- Salt and pepper
Note: all of these amounts are approximate and should be adjusted according to taste.
Combine the watercress, toasted walnuts, parmesan, garlic, and juice of 1/2 lemon in the bowl of a food processor. Process until you have a thick paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl once or twice if necessary.
With the motor running, drizzle in olive oil until it reaches the consistency of a moderately thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and add additional lemon juice if needed.
The pesto can be made hours or a day in advance, covered, and refrigerated. Bring it back to room temperature (or at least take of the chill) before tossing it with the pasta.
Fresh Semolina Pasta
From Gourmet via Epicurious
- 2 1/2 cups semolina
- 1/2 plus 1/3 cups water
- Flour for dusting
Combine the semolina and water in a medium bowl, and stir until you have a fairly cohesive mass. Turn the mixture out onto a work surface (I used my big, wooden cutting board), and knead for 7 to 9 minutes. The dough may seem dry and you might doubt its ability to pick up all of the semolina, but if you keep at it you should end up with a smooth ball of dough with most or all of the semolina incorporated. Sprinkle a little flour in the bottom of a bowl, add the dough, and let it rest, covered with plastic wrap, for 30 minutes.
After the resting period, you can either run the dough through a pasta machine, or you can hand-roll it with a rolling pin. If you opt for the hand-rolling method, make sure that your work surface is lightly floured at all times (all-purpose flour is fine for this), and keep rotating the dough as you go to prevent any surprise stickiness. Roll the dough into a thin sheet, keeping in mind that it will puff up and out when boiled, and slice with a knife or pizza cutter.
Add the cut pasta to a large pot of salted, boiling water. Cook until al dente. We didn’t keep track of the cooking time, but I’d guess that it was in the 5-7 minute range. Drain the pasta in a colander, reserving about 1/4 cup of the pasta water.
Return the pasta and the reserved water to the warm pot. Add the pesto as well as 1-2 cups of blanched green beans and 1-2 cups of boiled potatoes. Gently toss to distribute the sauce. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with grated parmesan and yummy buttered bread for an extra dose of carbs. I’d like to note that I refrained from turning the bread into cheesy bread, proving that I do have some self-restraint. Or maybe I was just planning ahead for that hot fudge sundae from Dairy Queen that I ate for dessert.