Never mind the basil, peas can make pesto, too

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 23, 2008

By J.M. Hirsch
AP Food Editor
Much as my 3-year-old son loves to help pop fresh peas from the pod, getting him to eat them is another matter.
But much experimentation has taught me that I can hide just about any vegetable in pesto and he will all but inhale it and the whole-wheat pasta with which it is tossed. This has prompted some creative pestos.
For example, steamed (or microwaved) shredded carrots can stand in for the more traditional basil to produce a beautiful and delicious carrot pesto. Ditto for cooked and cooled sweet potatoes or parsnips. On the raw side, fresh baby spinach or chard also create delicious, veggie-rich pestos.
Traditional pestos call for fresh basil, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts pureed with olive oil, salt and pepper. But that basic formula is easily tinkered with, which is a boon for the weeknight cook.
Pesto not only is a picky eater’s dream food, it’s also a simple way to add tons of flavor to pasta, meats and seafood (think grilled shrimp or cooked chicken tossed with pesto then served over a bed of greens and tomatoes).
This recipe for pea and mint pesto is simple way to turn peas into an appealing, cheesy sauce with sweet and savory notes. Fresh or frozen peas work equally well (if frozen, heat briefly in the microwave to thaw before pureeing).
To add a bit more substance to this pasta, toss in chunks of cooked chicken (warm or cold) or grilled shrimp. Also, consider swapping feta for the Parmesan cheese.
Pea and Mint Pesto
Start to finish: 20 minutes
Servings: 4
1 pound ziti or penne pasta
2 C. peas (if frozen, thaw first), divided
1/2 C. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh chives
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. lemon juice
Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, then return the pasta to the saucepan.
Meanwhile, in a food processor, combine 1 1/2 cups of the peas, cheese, mint, chives, olive oil and lemon juice. Process until smooth, about 30 seconds. Taste, then season with salt and pepper.
Add the pesto and remaining peas to the cooked pasta and toss to coat. The residual heat of the pasta will melt the cheese and make the pesto smoother. If you prefer a looser sauce, add some of the reserved cooking liquid.
Serve hot or at room temperature.
Nutrition information per serving: 338 calories; 109 calories from fat; 12 g fat (3 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 10 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 15 g protein; 5g fiber; 511 mg sodium.
J.M. Hirsch can be e-mailed at