Almond & Roasted Tomato Pesto Pasta

Two summers ago I tried to grow basil, parsley, dill and another herb I can no longer remember in small pots placed on my old apartment window ledge. They didn’t make it very long. Some, which I had decided to plant from seeds, were never even born. The whole dirt-caked affair was so sorry that I refused owning any herbs, or plants for that matter, all last summer. And fall, winter, then spring. This summer, I’m turning over a new leaf though.

My newly purchased miniature pot of basil is receiving sun, water, love and talking-to every day. It’s no longer in my apartment either, and since I don’t have any outdoor space or a window with any better light than before, I’ve stuck it between a row of pachysandra and neatly hedged stones in the front yard of my building. Only the tenant or mailman looking closely for it would notice the exotic, teardrop-shaped leaves swathed in its terracotta planter. And once they do, I may end up sharing my basil with the rest of the neighborhood. But until then, no matter.

The difficult part about having a tiny little basil plant, though, is trying not to molest it all at once. It’s tempting to make the pesto you’ve always dreamed of, but after robbing one or two leaves off the innocent thing, you can’t help but feel guilt. Luckily, some pestos only require scant amounts of ocinum basilicum, and frankly, that’s all my baby basil plant can handle at this point. He’s sensitive.

I watched Lidia Bastianich make a similar pasta dish on her PBS show using almonds and cherry tomatoes crushed up in a food processor along with about 2 liters of olive oil. It looked like delicious, simple light fare for a summer dinner. I can’t quite fathom ever using as much olive oil as she did on the show, but I did give my pesto-like sauce a hearty portion of it, along with a splash of cream for just a little bit of warmth. Instead of raw tomatoes, I roasted a couple of ripe red plum tomatoes until blistered. A scallion shoot was ground into the paste for color and freshness, and a couple of freshly chopped ripe tomatoes stirred throughout the dish completed my foray from her recipe, and I hope you like it, too.

Almond & Roasted Tomato Pesto Pasta
(makes 4 servings)

3 large ripe plum tomatoes (or 1 pkg cherry or grape tomatoes)
About 1 lb pasta (any shape)
1.25 oz almonds, raw or roasted both fine
5-6 fresh basil leaves
2 large cloves garlic
1 scallion (or shallot)
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup cream or half-and-half
1 tsp salt, or to taste
Fresh ground black pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and roast 2 of the tomatoes whole for about 15-20 minutes, until skin peels back and begins to char slightly. Let cool at least 15 minutes. Chop the third tomato and set aside.

Cook pasta to al dente; drain. In a food processor, pulse the almonds, garlic, scallion/shallot and tomatoes to an even consistency. Add salt, peppers, and most of the basil leaves and parmesan (reserving some for garnish). Drizzle in olive oil and blend. Taste for seasoning.

In a large saucepan, combine pesto with pasta on low heat and coat evenly. Add cream or half-and-half and stir thoroughly. Sprinkle with a little more salt and add the chopped fresh tomato. Serve immediately with an optional drizzle of olive oil, sprinkle of parmesan and some fresh basil.

Cost Calculator
(for 4 servings)

1 lb pasta: $1.29
1.25 oz almonds: $0.99
3 plum tomatoes (at $1.99/lb): $1.45
1/2 olive oil: $0.75
1/2 cup grated parmesan: $1.25
5-6 fresh basil leaves (at $3/potted plant): $1.00
1 scallion (at $0.50/bunch): $0.10
2 garlic cloves: $0.05
Salt, pepper, red pepper: $0.05

Total: $5.68

Health Factor

Six brownie points: Looks can be so deceiving. Almonds, raw, unsalted, hailed as the low-fat nut and valuable source of protein that they are, still carry a good 10 grams of fat per ounce. Count 120 calories per every tablespoon of olive oil (which could easily put you in five digits if applied with the fluidity of Lidia’s wrist), 50 more calories per tablespoon of cream, and, well, this recipe is for four people after all. So perhaps it’s not all that bad. But just a reminder to all those who see pesto as the innocent flower.

13 Responses

  1. Bokker

    Sounds/looks delicious. Great blog, too.
    A word to the wise re growing basil, if I may: keep the slugs at bay. The tender, aromatic leaves are one of their favourite treats and they can oblierate a plant overnight. Try vaseline smeared around the top of the plant (they can’t slide over the slippery surface) or sharp, bashed-up eggshells on the soil.
    Happy herb-growing!

  2. Kalyn

    It does sound delicious. Good luck growing your basil. It’s pretty easy to grow from seed too, if you want to slip a few seeds in among the flowers.

  3. Lisa (Homesick Texan)

    I, too, have had zero luck with growing herbs in my apartment. Ivy grows like weeds but whenever I want to grow something edible it lasts about a month. There’s nothing but cement in front of my building, but around the corner are tree beds and townhouses galore. I think I’ll sneak in a pot and see what happens!

  4. Vanessa

    Hey Cathy (and Lisa) – I swear I don’t have a green thumb but I’ve had great luck with mint (all the mojitos you want, all summer long) and chives. My chives from last year have popped up again this spring – in a tiny pot on my fire escape with no help from me. A bird even laid an egg in there – I’m not kidding! anyway, I think basil is hard to grow without tons of sun, soil and water. none of which are found on my fire escape. My cilantro also ends up too leggy for real kitchen use.

  5. cathy

    Thanks so much for all the advice! Now I have slugs to worry about in addition to neighbors and dogs, and have a hankering to grow mint and chives (YUM!) — Hooray urban “gardening”!

  6. Yvo

    Yum. I’ve been desperate to attempt to grow herbs in my apt… good luck with the baby basil!

    PS A funny story you might like: a friend of mine, who doesn’t cook, once emailed me “I’m bored and just sitting here, eating my plant.” I emailed back, really concerned “Are you sure you should eat plants?” and it was a while before she conveyed that it was actually a basil plant someone had given her… We had a good laugh when she realized I thought she was suffering from that disease.. I forgot the name, but where you just eat whatever’s at hand.

  7. Carrie

    Pica….I worked with a client in college who would eat dandelions…dirt…paper…the buttons off of her coat…
    I tried to grow herbs in my apartment in KC only to have my manager ask me if i weren’t trying to grow my own pot. The herbs didn’t grow but I blame myself. I really have enjoyed this site and the others linked to it–can’t wait to try some of the recipes.

  8. anado

    so i made this recipe last night, and I found that the shallot and garlic was over powering. I will definitely make it again, however I will saute the garlic and shallot in some olive oil before throwing in the food processor to develop the flavor a little. otherwise, it was a really good dish.

  9. JenChi

    you can keep slugs at bay by taping a ring of pennies around your pot. Slugs hate copper, supposedly it shocks them like us biting down on metal on our fillings.

  10. famdoc

    I also saw Lidia prepare her almond pesto during her visit to Sicily. We reproduced her recipe without difficulty. Needless to say, the amount of olive oil she uses appeared to be excessive. I think that this can be attributed to her commercial sponsor, which delights at her generous use of olive oil in her recipes.

  11. dinamos

    I saw Lidia make this and went looking for the recipe. This sounds like a good approximation.
    If you’re short on space for planting and want to eliminate slugs and other bugs there’s a great way to grow herbs and other plants. Go to your local nursery and ask for growing bags. They’re heavy duty plastic bags about 8″-10″ wide and about 2′ long with 2 rows of perforations on one side.
    Start filling the bag with a good planting mix and insert seedlings in the side, as many as 10, as you fill. You can even put one more in the opening at the top. Hang it from your balcony railing and say good bye to slugs. If you’ve got 10′ of rail that’s 10 bags. That’s over 100 plants in 10′.
    If you’re lucky enough to have a wall that faces south, put hooks in the wall and hang bags with cherry tomatoes. They love the heat that the sun builds up in the wall.
    Who says you don’t have enough space to have a garden?


  12. Babs

    Great! Peculiar how so many are looking for this recipe. Now that I have winged it and recreated it for myself, I know why? I sweated the garlic in a ‘little’ olive oil to soften it. Like your idea about adding a bit of cream. Really nice site, thank-you!

  13. Val

    I just saw this on Cook’s show on PBS. They credited Linda Bastianich as the creator but felt her recipe a bit too rich so cut oil to 1/3 cup, skipped the cream in your recipe, toasted the almonds but not the tomatoes (make sure they are blanched, skinless) and added one chopped pepperochini (sp) pepper. Looked great and so fast and easy! Think I’d serve with a piece of light fish or grilled shrimp for a light outdoor summer meal. Of course, its snowing here right now but one can dream!

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