Our local farmers market had beautiful bunches of basil this week, so I couldn’t resist making the season’s first batch of pesto. After a cold spring, my plants have just gone into the ground, so I was delighted to find basil at the Coronado Farmers Market last Tuesday. It was time for the first batch of summer pesto.
On an impulse, I threw in a leftover package of cream cheese I unearthed in the back of the deli drawer. It made the traditional pesto into a rich, creamy sauce that drew raves from Larry. As always, Meyer lemon zest enhanced the flavors in the other ingredients. Cream and cream cheese make this a splurge of an entrée, something I will make again for a dinner party later this summer.
“Perciatelli” you may ask? I had never heard of it either, but found it in my local grocery store. I had been looking for bucatini, the hollow version of perciatelli. I have fun playing with different dried pastas and couldn’t resist this one for its name alone. Even spellcheck didn’t recognize it…Feel free to try this with ordinary spaghetti. It will taste exactly the same.
Blanching the garlic in the pasta water before adding it to the pesto takes the “bite” out of the raw garlic, kind of a cool trick to soften its flavor.
TIP: My Vitamix blender did a better job of producing a creamy pesto than did my old food processor. The pesto from the processor had large flecks of green throughout the sauce. This recipe makes enough pesto for leftovers the next day. If you microwave the pesto to reheat it, do about 20 seconds, stir and taste.
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 ounces reduced fat cream cheese, room temperature
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, firmly packed
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- ½ cup cream
- ⅓ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons flat-leaved parsley, chopped
- 1 teaspoon Meyer lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ pound dried perciatelli, or other spaghetti-type pasta
- grated parmesan, pine nuts and fresh basil leaves (optional garnish)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the garlic cloves to the boiling water and cook for one minute. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Keep the water boiling.
- Using a processor, purée the cream cheese, blanched garlic, basil, oil, cream, parmesan, pine nuts, parsley and lemon zest until smooth.
- Add the salt to the boiling water and cook pasta according to package directions, usually 9-11 minutes.
- Drain the pasta and divide into 2 shallow bowls or plates. Top each portion with a ladle of pesto. Garnish with parmesan and fresh basil leaves. Serve.