As a student, I think I ate enough store-bought pesto to last me a lifetime, and now, basil pesto can only be an occasional pasta accompaniment. A while ago we had a bunch of parsley in the fridge with nothing to do, and weren’t feeling energetic enough to go to the store. No matter what, we always have an abundant supply of Parmesan, olive oil and garlic, but we use pine nuts so infrequently that they often go stale. I’d read once that they can be substituted with sunflower seeds, which we also always have in our cupboard, so I gave it a go. And that’s how parsley pesto became our default dinner-in-a-flash option. If you prep the pesto and tomatoes while you wait for the pasta to cook, this dish can be ready in 15 minutes. I use a food processor but you can use a stick blender or even a large mortar & pestle if you want to do it like a real Italian! We had four small tomatoes from our balcony, it was enough for two plates. You can of course enjoy this dish without them, but I think it’s much better with something a little sharp to cut through the richness. Any leafy herb can be used to make pesto. I’m also excited to try it with arugula.
Pasta with parsley & sunflower seed pesto & fresh tomato
Serves 4 hungry people
30 g flat leaf parsley
1 garlic clove, bitter core removed & grated
20 g sunflower seeds
35 g Parmesan
60 g olive oil
1/4 cup pasta cooking water
500 g casareccia pasta (or whichever pasta you prefer)
Put your tomatoes in a bowl big enough that you can completely cover them in boiling water. Cover with freshly boiled water for exactly a minute then drain. Make a small slit in the skin of the tomato and slip the skins off. Slice in half, remove the woody bit and roughly chop. Set aside.
Put a large pot of well salted water on to boil. I use 10 g of salt per litre of water. This is going to be your seasoning for the pesto so it’s important that the water is salty enough. Add the pasta and cook according to the package instructions.
Meanwhile, in a small food processor bowl, add the parsley, garlic, sunflower seeds, Parmesan and olive oil and blitz together. I like to see flecks of the herbs in the pesto so I stop before it gets too creamy. With two minutes to go before the pasta is cooked, scoop a 1/4 cup of the cooking water out and add it to your pesto, blitz briefly to combine.
Drain the pasta and add back into the pot. Pour your pesto over the pasta and stir well. Serve the pasta in pasta bowls (or whichever vessel you prefer), and top each with a handful of chopped tomato and a few grinds of pepper. Drizzle extra olive oil over the top and finish with grated Parmesan.