As you know, I love anything green, delicious, and fresh. And because a large part of me also loves good ole comfort food, I am even happier when I can combine something like pasta with something healthy. Like this flavor bomb of a pesto. I mean who could say no to a bowl of arugula and basil pesto finished off with fresh zingy lemon, and then tossed with oh-so-treasured pine nuts, sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh chillies, and whole grain pasta, only to be further yummified by baking it in the oven with a tasty parmesan topping? Yes, healthy foods can be made into very tasty meals indeed.
So if you are bored of regular old basil pesto (okay, I know, I never get tired of fresh homemade basil pesto either, but a little change once in a while keeps things interesting!) then this just may be the thing for you. Don’t be put off by the excess of garlic; it’s absolutely necessary and oh-so-delicious. That and the subtle spicy tones of fresh chili give this pesto an added boost.
I’ve made variations of this dish a few too many times and still can’t get enough of it. The simplest way is to merely toss the pesto together with a bowl of spaghetti, and served topped with chopped (and seeded!) fresh chili, toasted pine nuts, halved cherry tomatoes and fresh grated parmesan — plus a generous token of freshly ground pepper. It’s really the simplest thing to throw together, and just takes ten minutes to make. Baked or simply tossed together — you’ll eat it and hopefully love it as much as I do!
You can use any pasta of your choice. I like spelt pasta for its sweet nutty flavor, plus it’s remarkably rich in protein and fibre, making it easily digestible than its plainer noodle cousins. Find a brand you love, as not all are equal in their flavor or consistency. I stick with those produced in Italy.
Kamut pasta is also a favorite of mine too and it has lots of protein too!
By the way, if you suffer from a wheat allergy, you should be aware that spelt is closely related to wheat.
Healthy Baked Pesto Maccheroni
For the pasta:
500 g wholegrain spelt or whole wheat maccheroni (alternatively penne or rigatoni), reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid (125 ml)
2-3 cups cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered (about 300 g or more)
2 fresh red chilis, seeded and sliced thinly
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted (50 g)
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan (40 g)
For the pesto:
6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
3 cups arugula leaves (about 100 g)
1 cup loosely packed, coarsely chopped fresh basil leaves (about 2 handfuls)
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan (20 g)
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil (160 ml)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
sea salt, to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F / 200°C.
2. Fill a large pot with cold water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and add pasta, stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking. Cook according to packet instructions, until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup (125 ml) of the cooking liquid. Return the pasta back to pot.
3. Meanwhile, blend or process the garlic, arugula, basil, parmesan, oil and lemon juice until smooth.
4. Toss the pesto with the cooked noodles and add a some of the cooking liquid to make it a little more saucy (add a tablespoon at a time until it reaches the desired consistency). Add the chopped tomatoes, chili, and pine nuts, toss again to combine. Transfer to a 30cm x 20cm baking dish and sprinkle with parmesan cheese. Position the rack in the middle of the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
5. Serve immediately and enjoy!