Here’s another one of the joys of summer cuisine: raw pasta sauces. Currently just about any combination of herbs and vegetables pureed with oil and nuts can pass for “pesto”. I am a bit of a purist in that I prefer the green versions of this versatile little sauce, and this is one of my favorites. Use it as a sauce for pasta and vegetables, or as a component of salad dressing or dip. This recipe does not contain cheese, so season it with salt accordingly; then top your pasta generously with Parmesan or hard, aged goat cheese. The pesto will keep in the refrigerator, tightly covered, for several days.
Spaghetti with Mint and Almond Pesto and Tomatoes
10 ounces (300 grams) spaghetti or linguine
14 ounces (400 grams) tomatoes, cut into thin wedges*
1/3 cup (50 grams) blanched almonds, lightly toasted
A large bunch of mint (about 2 ounces) leaves only
1 garlic clove, chopped
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus a squeeze of juice
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
A pinch of sugar
About 1/3 cup (75 milliliters) canola or olive oil (I use a combination of the two)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan, hard goat cheese, or other well-flavored hard cheese, for serving
For the pesto: put the toasted almonds in a food processor along with the mint, garlic, and lemon zest. Process until very finely chopped. Add the mustard and sugar, then, with the motor running, slowly pour in the oil until you have a thick puree. Season with salt, pepper, and a good squeeze of lemon juice. (Store in the refrigerator if not using immediately.) Put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain well, then toss with the mint pesto and about half of the tomatoes.** Divide between warmed serving bowls or plates and top with the remaining tomatoes. Serve right away, scattered with cheese shavings, if you like.
*If tomatoes are not yet at their best, substitute lightly cooked asparagus, peas, or a mixture of summer vegetables.
**I have my own method of saucing pasta with pesto. Because it is a raw sauce, I find if you toss it with the pasta in the pot, most of it sticks to the pot, rather than the pasta. Here is what I do: Place your serving bowl in the sink and position a colander directly over it. When the pasta is done, scoop out a small amount of the cooking water (about 1/4 cup) and set it aside. Drain the pasta into the colander. The hot cooking water will warm the bowl beneath the colander. Now, lift the colander and tip the hot water out of the serving bowl (careful, don’t burn your hands). Put the drained pasta in the now very warm bowl and add the pesto. Toss rapidly, adding a little cooking water if the sauce seems thick. Top with your selected garnishes and serve.
(minimally adapted from “River Cottage Veg” by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall)