Easy Pesto Pasta recipe

When I was growing up, my dad was in charge of dinner once in a while, and his go-to was pesto. I have a special place on my palate for this style of pesto, and when I have a bit of fresh basil to use, I make a batch of pesto to keep in the fridge. I use the pesto in my spag bol, or as a spread on a cold chicken sandwich, but most especially for the fastest midweek dinner.

The pesto I make has walnuts, which may turn off a few due to taste or allergy, but you can substitute a nice hard, Italian cheese for the nuts if you prefer. Pine nuts are more traditional, but I find them expensive and less versatile than the walnuts, which also find their way into baked goods in my house. You can also add more olive oil than the recipe calls for to taste, but I usually add olive oil to the dish I’m using the pesto to flavour, so I use just enough to blend and preserve.

If you don’t fancy making the pesto from scratch, you can always tear in basil leaves and crush fresh garlic for the pasta recipe, and it’s still flavorful and quick. My kids aren’t the biggest fans of this pasta if it isn’t angel hair and the garlic is overpowering, but they never notice when it’s in the spag bol!  This dish takes all of 15 minutes, the longest step really is waiting for the water to boil. You can even make the pesto in the food processor while you wait for the water and then pasta. So quick, and so tasty!

You’ll need:

Pesto (food processor to a paste)

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed
  • 2 teaspoons (or two cloves) fresh peeled garlic
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Pasta

  • Angel Hair pasta (or spaghetti) to serve four (one handful usually does the trick)
  • ½ cup chopped onion (I use frozen)
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1 cup sweet peas (again, frozen)
  • ½ cup rough chopped walnuts
  • 1-2 tablespoons pesto from above batch (or a handful of basil leaves and a bit of garlic)
  • ½ cup shredded Parmesan or preferred hard cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

The method:

Using a food processor, blend the basil leaves, garlic cloves and olive oil until smooth.

Add the walnuts and salt, and any more olive oil to keep the mixture smooth up to an additional tablespoon. The pesto paste should not clump up, but remain semi-liquid.

Pesto.jpg

Using a medium saucepan, bring 6+ cups of water to a boil for the pasta.

Break the pasta in half and add to the boiling water. Add salt and oil if you choose, but I usually don’t bother.

While the pasta cooks, scrape the pesto into an airtight container; this will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks!

Drain the pasta in the sink and return the pan to the cook top with a medium heat.

Add the onions, peas and oil and thaw/lightly fry the onions and peas.

Add the pesto you’ve created and the additional walnut pieces and stir into the onions and peas. This allows the garlic to fry off lightly before adding the pasta.

Return the pasta to the pan and toss lightly. You can also pour the pasta and sauce into a large serving bowl for tossing, it may provide more space for evenly coating the pesto.

Remove from the heat and either in the pot or bowl, add the cheese and toss again.

Salt and pepper to taste before serving. Enjoy!

Plated pesto pasta.jpg

Walk-away Alfredo Chicken and Broccoli recipe

Slow cookers are a fabulous timesaver, and one I use more and more as school runs and schedules get into full swing. This is a great back-to-school recipe that can be modified to suit your needs.

We’re a gluten-free household (when my husband’s home), so this recipe features an easy, homemade alfredo sauce that’s gluten free, and gluten-free pasta. You’re more than welcome to use your favourite pasta, and a jar of alfredo sauce, but this easy white sauce may make you think twice about all the other ingredients thrown in with jar sauces.

My kids are both in morning classes, so I use this recipe to start just after lunch time for dinner later (2.5 hours). If your schedule means you need to start it in the morning, go for LOW to allow 5 hours. If you find the pasta gets too mushy (GF pasta can usually handle it), cook the pasta separately 20 minutes before serving, and skip the chicken stock at the end.

You’ll need:

  • 3 boneless chicken breasts
  • ¼ cup chopped white onion (frozen is fine)
  • 1.5 cup frozen broccoli florets (about 6-8 big pieces, hard to measure)
  • ½ tsp garlic powder
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 2 cups double cream
  • ½ cup butter
  • 2 TB cream cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp basil pesto
  • 1 cube or 1 tsp concentrated chicken stock (GF)
  • 1.5-2 cups water
  • 340g/12oz penne pasta (GF)
  • salt and pepper to taste

The method:

First things first, give the slow cooker a bit of cooking spray, if you like, and spread the onions across the bottom of the pot.

Dice the chicken breasts into large cubes, trying to keep a similar size for uniform cooking. Spread the chicken cubes on the chopping board and shake on the oregano, black pepper and garlic powder before adding the spiced chicken to the pot.

Slow cooker alfredo prep
Layer in your broccoli, turn the cooker onto HIGH and cover
.

Next, I make the alfredo sauce, it takes about ten minutes total. You can opt for a jar, but this is really very simple.

Using a saucepan on a medium heat, I add the butter, cream cheese and cream.

Stir the butter and a cream cheese until smooth within the cream using a rubber spatula to clean the edges and bottom of the pan.

Add the pesto and mix into the cream before adding the grated cheese.

If you wanted to stop now, you could use this sauce over pasta any time, but for this recipe, we’re going to add the chicken stock for cooking the pasta.

Add the chicken stock with water to the alfredo sauce (I know – what? But trust me). You can mix the stock in a mug first, but I just mix in the concentrate and then top it off with the kettle, right there in the pan.

Turn off the heat once the mixture is smooth (a little oil displacement is fine).

Layer the uncooked pasta onto the broccoli, pour your sauce with stock into the cooker, covering the contents. If the pasta isn’t covered, stir the layers to bring the broccoli to the top, as it doesn’t need to be submerged. Add a little more water if you need to cover the pasta, but tread lightly.

If you prefer the jar option, I suggest mixing the alfredo with the chicken stock before adding it to the slow cooker.

Slow cooker alfredo just before turning it on

Top tip: For added flavour, add bacon bits to the recipe. I keep leftover bacon  (if there ever is any) after I’ve oven baked a tray full at 180C/375F for cooked breakfast.

Cover the cooker, and walk away. This will slowly grow over the next hour. If you happen to be home and walk by, feel free to push any stray noodles down, but by and large, this dish is happy to tick along in the background. It’ll be ready to serve after two hours if the chicken is smaller, 2.5 if larger chunks. Please be sure to check the chicken is cooked through; pressing it against the side of the pot with a spoon should break the chicken easily.

Turn off or onto warm after 2 hours (5 hours if LOW temperature setting) and enjoy! It’s an all in one, so scoop onto a plate or bowl whenever your family are ready to eat.

Slow cooker doing some slow cooking

This dish can be done in the oven as well, at 180C/375F in a deep dish with a cover, or tightly wrapped with foil. You’ll want to spray a non-stick or grease the pan, and may need to check and stir it after half an hour. Cut the chicken a bit smaller and it should be done in 45 min to an hour.
Sparkly Mummy