A few years ago, I went to a weeklong “bootcamp” at the Culinary Institute in Napa Valley (if you ever get the chance, it’s truly a bucket list experience.) While I was there, our instructor Chef John Ash demo’d how to make the best pesto ever, and I’ve been using his tips ever since. There are two main secrets that take this pesto to the next level: (1) Blanching the herbs and garlic before adding to the rest of the ingredients totally enhances the flavor and removes bitterness, and (2) instead of sticking to the more traditional pine nuts and basil blend, mix it up with the herbs and nuts of your choice. For our latest collaboration with Blue Diamond Almonds (did you catch our recent smoothie bowl brunch?) I’ve created an almond-mint pesto that is my current favorite ingredient of summer and is destined to top fish, crostini, and of course this perfect-for-entertaining pasta dish.
*photos by kate lesueur
Since this recipe uses only a handful of ingredients, make sure they’re the best. The mint is already going crazy in my backyard, so I gathered handfuls of it since pesto requires a LOT of herbs. I used Blue Diamond’s Roasted Salted Almonds for the best toasty flavor, plus they’re already seasoned so I didn’t need to add extra salt to the pesto itself. Asparagus and peas are at their prime this time of year, and I love the freshness they bring to this spring green color palette.
As mentioned, one of my little secrets for making the best pesto is to blanch my herbs and garlic before using. All you have to do is bring a saucepan of water to a boil, drop in your herbs and garlic for 20 seconds, then transfer to a bowl filled with ice water to stop the cooking before drying them out in a towel. It’s a quick little step that results in next-level pesto, since all the bitterness is gone and you’re left with the smooth and slightly sweet herbal flavor.
As usual, I’m all about the toppings. After tossing together the pasta, herbs and veggies, I love to shower it all with some extra freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano, chopped mint, and lemon slices (because everything’s better with lemon in my book.)
Dish it out for the simplest most satisfying one-pot meal that’s your solution for dinner parties all summer long. And be sure to make extra pesto — you’ll want to have some stored in the fridge to use as a dip for fresh veggies and to serve alongside grilled fish and meat.
Need a few other ideas for using up your pesto? Check out:
*this post is sponsored by Blue Diamond Almonds – thanks for supporting our partners!
- 2 bunches fresh mint (reserve a little for garnish)
- 1 bunch fresh basil (or use any combination of herbs that you like!)
- 2 cloves peeled garlic
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup Blue Diamond Roasted Salted Almonds
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups asparagus chopped into 2" lengths
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
- 1 pound fresh or dried linguine
- lemon wheels for garnish
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Add the garlic and herbs and blanch for 20 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water to stop the cooking. Transfer to a towel to ring out extra water, then add herbs and garlic to a blender or food processor to make the pesto. Return pot to the stove so it's ready for boiling the pasta.
- Add garlic, parmesan, almonds, and pulse to combine, adding a little of the blanching water to thin. With the motor running, slowly stream in the olive oil and process until smooth.
- To the boiling water, add the pasta and cook according to package directions. When there are 3 minutes left in the cooking time, add the asparagus pieces and allow to cook with the pasta. Add the peas for the last minute of cooking, then transfer the entire mixture to a colander to drain, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking water.
- Spoon 1/2 cup of pesto and 1/4 cup of cooking water to a large serving bowl, then add the pasta. Toss it all together, adding more pesto as needed to lightly coat everything. Top with more freshly grated Parmesan, lemon slices, and fresh mint, give it a few more tosses, then eat!
*pesto can be made in advance and will keep in the fridge for up to a week. I love to freeze individual portions of it in ice cube trays!