Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pesto Pasta, Garlic Bread and Colorful Salad









My sister-in-law and her sister joined my husband and I for dinner tonight, and I wanted to put together a healthy vegetarian meal that would be quick and easy to prepare on a weeknight.

For the main dish, I decided to do a pesto pasta with grape tomatoes and bocconcini (tiny little fresh mozzarella balls).  In case you are unfamiliar with pesto, it's a green sauce made with olive oil, garlic, fresh basil, pine nuts and parmesan cheese.  If you have specific nut sensitivities, be aware that sometimes pesto is prepared with walnuts instead of pine nuts.  (I learned this the hard way, since walnuts are my most intense allergy.) 

Pesto was originally made with a mortar and pestle (which explains the name, which refers to, as Wikipedia says, "anything made by pounding").  However, I find that a food processor makes pesto incredibly easy.  This recipe gets the proportions pretty right, but taste as you go to add and subtract ingredients as you see fit.  It's also helpful to scrape down the bowl as you go so that the ingredients combine effectively.
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I haven't tried to make vegan pesto, mostly because all of the vegan parmesan substitutes I've come across have either soy or walnuts.  However, I did use Whole Foods' vegetarian parmesan, which is not made with rennet or derived from cows treated with rGBh.  But, if someone would like to give it a shot, let me know how it turns out.

For the pasta, I used Barilla Plus Angel Hair.  Plus pasta is made with golden semolina and flaxseed, spelt, oats, barley, and legumes.  It is also made with egg whites, so it's not suitable for vegans.  However, if you're a lacto-ovo vegetarian, this pasta has some positives.  One serving has 17 grams of protein and 4 grams of fiber, as well as 15% of the DV for iron, 28% of the DV for ALA Omega-3 and 40% of the DC for folate.

The one thing that drove me slightly batty about tonight's pasta is that when I stirred in the tomatoes and mozzarella, they immediately sank to the bottom of the bowl, which killed my presentation.  The pesto combined just fine, however.


The garlic bread I made was suitable for vegans.  During my lunch hour, I went to the Foggy Bottom Whole Foods and grabbed a whole wheat french bread.  When I got home, I made a garlic "butter" using soy-free earth balance, freshly minced garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes.  I spread the "butter" on the bread and let it toast in the oven at 350 for ten minutes.  It came out crusty and gooey, just like traditional garlic bread.

Whenever I do a big pasta dinner, I like to serve a green salad on the side.  I got a pre-washed bag of spring mix, which I topped with pre-shreeded carrots, julienned Asian pear and slivered almonds.  If you're not familiar with Asian pears, it's a round fruit native to China, Japan and Korea.  Since they have a high water content, they are typically eaten raw, rather than in baked goods.

I normally don't eat salad dressing, since it's often laden with soybean oil, but I decided to try my hand at making a vinaigrette tonight.  I used this Epicurious recipe, omitting the sugar and using Grey Poupon horseradish mustard (aka, what we have in the house).  It paired better than I expected with the salad, and we put the leftover dressing in a cruet so I can use it throughout the week.  I've learned to appreciate dry salad, but it's sure nice to have a dressing option when I want it.

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