I was thinking about where the recipes we cook come from the other day. Some are passed down through families for generations. Others we learn from friends, discover in recipe books and magazines, on TV shows or these days through the numerous websites and blogs now available to us. Others just develop from an idea. This recipe is one of the latter. I make no claims to it being a traditional pasta dish (in fact, I recall an Italian cook/chef noting at a demonstration that cream and pesto together in pasta was very wrong). However, it is a regular household favourite and wrong or not, I love it. I’ve even had an ex ask me for the recipe after we’d broken up!
The original idea came from watching an episode of Ready Steady Cook one day when I was home sick from work several years ago. One of the cooks made veal with a cream and pesto sauce and observed that the sauce was also good with pasta. I decided to give it a go and over time it developed into the dish below. The meat component depends on what I have in the fridge (or can be omitted altogether). This time I had some chorizo (I use this in it quite a lot), other times I’ve made this with leftover cooked chicken, or some pancetta or bacon. I’ve also used the same method to make a chicken and roast pumpkin pasta, but without the pesto.
I originally made this dish with cream. However, that isn’t the best for a regular weeknight dinner. I was amazed the first time I tried this with evaporated skim milk and corn flour in place of cream. The result is just as creamy and delicious. Another success in my quest to find ‘healthier’ replacements. I haven’t made this with cream since. If you do want to make it with cream, just replace the evaporated skim milk and corn flour with about 200ml of cream. I have even made it without any milk/cream component at all, and just used some of the pasta water to create the sauce. But whichever method I use, I’m always happy with the results.
Creamy pesto pasta
- 150g cherry or small roma tomatoes – sliced in half
- 100-150g button or swiss mushrooms – sliced
- 1 chorizo (120g) – cut into quarters lengthways then cut into small pieces (see note)
- 1 shallot (or half a leek) – finely chopped
- 1 clove of garlic – finely chopped (or minced)
- 1 bunch of asparagus – trimmed and chopped into thirds – blanched or steamed to part cook (you can do this in the microwave)
- 3 tablespoons of basil pesto (either shop bought or home made)
- 1 tin – 375ml evaporated skim milk
- 1 tablespoon of corn flour (combine the corn flour in a small amount of the skim milk to combine completely )
- Pasta of your choice to serve (I used 395g fettuccini)
- Parmesan or pecorino to serve
- 1 teaspoon of oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Cook the pasta as per the packet instructions and drain. Save a cup of the cooking liquid to use if the sauce is too thick.
- Meanwhile, cook the shallots in a small amount of oil in a frypan on a medium heat with a pinch of salt until translucent (5 min). Add the garlic and cook for a further 2 minutes. If you are using bacon or pancetta, add before the shallots and cook until it starts to crisp.
- Add the chorizo and cook for a few minutes until it begins to crisp and release its oils. Then add the mushrooms and cook until they begin to colour (5 min).
- Add the tomatoes and cook for a further 1-2 minutes then add the pesto, asparagus, skim milk and corn flour. Stir and simmer until the sauce has thickened slightly. It should only take a few minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Add more pesto if you want it stronger.
- Combine with pasta and serve with parmesan or pecorino.
- You could also use bacon, pancetta, cooked chicken.
- Make sure you combine some of the corn flour with a small amount of the skim milk first to remove any lumps.
- If you have leftovers, add some of the pasta cooking water as the sauce will thicken more as it cools.