Friday, 27 March 2015

Fettuccine with kale and almond pesto

Fettuccine with kale and almond pesto

I want to share this recipe, that I much loved, before the kale season ends.
Luckily kale is still available at the Farmers Market on the Terrace, and is still good and tender. I saw it this morning (though I didn't buy as I like to alternate my veggies throughout the month), and hope to find it again next week.

It is a bit weird to me but, at this time of the year, when I go on my weekly shopping trip to the market I can buy fresh, local kale and other vegetables that, from an Italian point of view, are typical of winter (like cauliflower, broccoli, fennel or cabbage) as well as ripe, juicy, tasty tomatoes - but also peppers, eggplants and zucchini - that in Italy is possible to find only in the middle of summer. Such a wide range of vegetables available at the same time gives me the possibility to make, in the same week, recipes that in Italy (and in Europe in general) I would make in January or February and others more typical of the summer season.
This week for example I made this kale pesto (the rest of the kale was braised with garlic, chili and extra virgin olive oil and eaten as a side dish) and a tomato sauce like the one my mother uses to make in August and preserve for the winter.  But I also cooked leeks, and beetroots, and green beans, not to mention all the different varieties of salads I had (lettuce, different types of rocket and other tasty varieties whose name is still obscure to me).
I'm getting used to this diversity and just love it!

Fettuccine with kale and almond pesto

With regard to the kale and almond pesto, the recipe is very easy and quick, yet particularly tasty and enjoyable: a perfect solution for an impromptu healthy meal with the family as well as to make a good impression with guests.

Pesto is an Italian term meaning mashed, crushed (from the verb pestare) and refers the original preparation method where ingredients are ground using a pestle and mortar (for purists pesto should always be prepared only with a marble pestle and a wooden mortar, but I think that pesto made in a food processor is good anyway).
The original pesto (the so called pesto alla Genovese) is made with Genovese basil (a flavorful variety of basil from Ligury region), salt, garlic, extra virgin olive oil (if possible from the Taggiasca olive variety), pine nuts (sometimes lightly toasted) and a mix of grated Parmigiano Reggiano and pecorino (sardo or romano).  In the Ligury region pesto is used for pasta, usually the trofie shape and with an addition of boiled green beans and potatoes; but very popular are also lasagne al pesto, with pesto, bechamel sauce and cheese.
But as the pesto can be considered more a preparation technique then a specific recipe, referring to any sauce made by pounding together a mix of ingredients, many different types of pesto can be found both in and outside Italy; some are traditional regional specialties (like pesto alla siciliana made with tomato, almond and basil), while others are variations, more or less creative, on the original recipe.
And anyone can create his /  her own favorite recipe for pesto, mixing herbs, greens, nuts, seeds, cheeses, and whatever taste and fantasy suggest.

So I did when I made this pesto. I read many recipes for kale pesto but didn't follow any: I just used few ingredients I like and mixed them up. And was very happy with the final result.
Almonds light sweetness balances the quite strong taste of raw kale and the addition of some pecorino cheese - instead of only Parmigiano  - gives some extra flavor to the whole dish.
I used it as a sauce for fettucine, a variety of egg pasta, but it works well also with other shapes of pasta, made with or without eggs.
I garnished the final dish with toasted sliced almonds, to have some crunchiness, and with some oven dried tomatoes to add more sweetness: I loved the combination but both the additions can be omitted as well as substituted, for example with sauteed pancetta (or bacon if you like the smoked flavor), or kale chips, or crumbled almonds.
This recipe makes enough pesto for 4 to 6 plates of pasta; if you cook less pasta (I made it just for two for example), put the leftover pesto in a jar, cover with a layer of olive oil and it will keep well in the fridge for at least the next couple of days. Or you can freeze it and keep it for a longer time.
You can use it again on pasta or just be creative: add more olive oil, and maybe some lemon juice, and use it as a salad dressing; spread it on toasted bread; put it on grilled or roasted veggies, on eggs, or fresh cheeses (like ricotta, mozzarella just to name a few).
Last comment. Feel free to adjust the recipe to your liking: taste it before serving and add more cheese or garlic or nuts or salt; also you can make it hot, adding some chili while blending or chili flakes before serving; if you like the citrus flavor some lemon juice can be added while blending along whit lemon zests.
Or you can be even more creative changing the type of nut or the cheese: it won't be a kale and almond pesto anymore, but it will probably taste good as well!
Fettuccine with kale and almond pesto
Fettuccine with kale and almond pesto
serves 4
two bunches kale, a mix of curly and Tuscan black kale
40 g of almonds
40 g of Parmigiano cheese, grated
20 g of pecorino cheese, grated
1 or 2 garlic cloves, crushed
sea salt
extra virgin olive oil (you'll need about 60 - 70 ml)
250 g dried fettuccine
sliced almonds, for garnish
optional: cherry tomatoes dried in the oven
Rinse well the kale under running water and remove the hard stems.
In a blender place the almonds and garlic and pulse to finely chop, then add the kale in two or three times and pulse to grind, finally add the grated cheeses, a pinch of salt and a generous splash of extra virgin olive oil (use it generously, it will help you blend the pesto) and blend until smooth, adding more oil if necessary ( or one or two tablespoons water).
Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Toast the sliced almonds in a non stick pan, or in the oven, if using.
Fill a large pot with water (about 100 ml per each 100 g pasta) and bring to the boil. When it gets to a boil, add some coarse salt, then drop the pasta and cook, stirring occasionally, according to package directions.  
Transfer the pesto (you'll probably won't need it all) in a large bowl or pan and add a few tablespoons of cooking water to soften. When the pasta is ready, drain, transfer in the bowl with the pesto and mix well.
Transfer the pasta into individual serving plates, garnish with toasted almonds and serve immediately.
I also added some oven-dried tomatoes for a sweet note to balance the earthy flavor of the kale (to make them wash and halve the cherry tomatoes, place them on a baking tray, season with salt, pepper and a little light brown sugar; dry in the oven at 150°C until dry but still juicy). 
Alternatively you can add cubes of sautéed pancetta or bacon.

You have leftover pesto? Pour it in a jar, cover with a layer of extra virgin olive oil and place it in the refrigerator: it will keep well for a few days. You can use on pasta but also as a dressing for salad or roasted veggies, or as spread or dip. 
Alternatively  freeze it into cubes and it will keep for longer; just remember to dilute the pesto with a few tablespoons of cooking water, it will be easier to use it.

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