The first time I made this dish, it was to pack for an elegant picnic. It was a first for a lot of things that day – the picnic’s spice-rubbed chicken and the pesto sauce for the salad. I had never made pesto sauce before. I’ve eaten pesto sauce recipes in restaurants and found the sauce at times to be a bit over baring. I’ve tried commercially prepared pesto sauces, and found them to be “okay” but lacking in something, I just didn’t know what.
So why make a pesto pasta salad? I was convinced Pesto was a good thing – and like escargot – it was an acquired taste. As a fan of spinach, basil and all things Italian (thus far), Pesto was a taste I was determined to acquire if it was the last thing I did!
Wow! This is really good. I mean really good! The salad is intended to be served at room temperature, which made it a good choice for a picnic or buffet table. It is creamy and deliciously sublime. The pasta of choice is Farfalle Pasta, better known in America as bow tie pasta. Yet I prefer the Italian translation – Butterfly. It could also be made with any type of broad pasta, although I would not recommend a tube or shell pasta as some of the sauce may gather inside and over power the overall dish.
On a final note before cooking, I recently read that Walnuts can be used in place of the Pine Nuts, which tend to be an expensive ingredient. While I haven’t tried that, I can see where it might work. If substituting Walnuts for Pine Nuts, I would use only a few, adding as needed until you’ve reached the desired taste.
Butterfly Pesto Pasta Salad
3 Garlic Cloves, unpeeled
1 Cup Fresh Basil
1 ½ Cups Baby Spinach
¼ Cups Pine Nuts
¼ Cup Olive Oil
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1 Tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar
Salt & Pepper
¼ Cup Parmesan Cheese
½ Cup Best Foods Mayonnaise
1 lb Farfalle Pasta (bow-tie)
1/4 Cup or so Reserved cooking water
Toast garlic in a small skillet over medium-heat, shaking pan occasionally, until fragrant and color deepens slightly, about 7 minutes. Let garlic cool, then peel and chop coarse.
Process garlic, basil, spinach, pine nuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down bowl as needed. Add Parmesan Cheese and mayonnaise, continue to process until thoroughly combined. Transfer pesto to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate until needed. (Mixture can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours).
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until pasta is just past al dente. Reserve ¼ cup of pasta cooking water, drain pasta. Toss pasta with a little olive oil and spread into a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Let pasta cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, toss cooled pasta with pesto, adding reserved pasta water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until pesto evenly coasts pasta.
Just as a side note, I brought my Butterfly Pesto Pasta to a family gathering a few years back. Feeling rather cleaver, I put the pasta into a butterfly shaped cake pan, inverted it onto a serving platter and attempted to “decorate” the salad as a butterfly. While the end result was “cute” it’s still very much a work in progress. What can I say? I like to play with my food! The nice thing about salads such as pastas, rice or potato salads is that they are easy to “mold” using just about any shape bowl or container.
Just remember, when playing with your food, it’s important to have fun!