Pesto-Tomato Salad

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Last night we had a couple and their daughter over for dinner. We met on Google+ of all random places, and found out a while back that we live near each other, and have girls of compatible ages.

Anyway, I’d been hankering for a big ol’ cheeseburger – in particular my Caprese Burgers, which I’m disappointed in myself for not making more often this summer, and a different side was in order.  Then, I remembered one I’d made a long time ago – so long, in fact, that all my notes had vanished into the cosmos – that would suit the Italian flavors of the burger quite nicely…

Thus, the rebirth of the Pesto-Tomato Salad.

Pesto-Tomato Salad and a Caprese Burger

Pesto-Tomato Salad and a Caprese Burger

The whole salad is fancy, but in fact, really, really simple.  Pesto, tomatoes, and cold pasta.  Bam!  There are a few intricacies to…. no, not really.  The hard part is waiting long enough for the flavors to blend.

But, there’s an order that works pretty well, and allows for a lot of the sitting time, which makes the recipe easier & quicker, so I’ll offer that up with commentary.

It must be some sort of mantra in my kitchen – start your pasta water before you do anything else – and this is no exception.  Pasta water, because of it’s volume and salt, seems to take forever to boil, so it’s best to get that out of the way first.

The next “critical” thing, which should be done immediately, is make a batch of pesto.  Now, there are probably a million recipes for pesto out there on the internet, but I’m going to be honest and say… nothing.  They’re mostly identical, and if you have a favorite pesto recipe go for it.  You’ll probably like the salad even more, right?

Here’s what I do:

Take about 2 packed cups of basil leaves, along with 1/4c of pine nuts, 2-3 cloves of garlic, and 1/2 cup of olive oil, put them in your food processor, and pulse until the lot is relatively smooth – there should be not more than flecks of the basil dispersed evenly throughout.  Add another splash of olive oil and work that in for a few seconds.  Remove that mix from the food processor to a bowl, and add 1/4c or so of grated Parmesan cheese – and here I have something to say.  The grade of cheese does matter, both for texture and flavor.  Besides, you just spent how much on pine nuts? Pairing them with Kraft almost seems criminal.  Anyway, I digress.  mix the cheese in well, cover the bowl with a cling wrap, and put in the fridge for at least 15 minutes. 30 minutes would be better, or even make it the day before (just put a float of olive oil on top to seal in the flavor and keep it moisturized)

At the same time, the moment the water is boiling – no matter what you’re doing, start the farfalle cooking.  Cook per the package directions, but it should be about 11 minutes.  The moment the pasta is done, remove from heat, drain, and rinse with cold water until the pasta is cool.  Put the pasta in your largest mixing bowl, and let it wait with anticipation for the other ingredients.

And, whenever you have time, take 4-5 Roma tomatoes and dice them coarsely.  If the pasta is ready, go ahead and add the tomatoes to the pasta.  If not, set aside until such time.

And phase one is complete.

Phase two occurs when the pasta is done, and the pesto has rested long enough.  Add the pesto to the mixing bowl and work in thoroughly, so the pasta is evenly coated with pesto, and the tomatoes are dispersed.  Then, add another 1/4c of cheese and mix that in evenly.  Cover if you can, and put the lot in the fridge for another 30 minutes (at least).  Basically, make whatever your main dish is at this point in time.

And voila!  You’ve just amazed and astounded your guests with elegant simplicity.

Shopping list (including pesto):

  • 1 bunch basil
  • 1/4c pine nuts
  • several cloves of garlic
  • Olive oil (1/2-3/4 cup)
  • 1/2c Parmesan cheese – buy a small wedge from the deli section
  • 1lb farfalle (or similar flat pasta)
  • 4-6 Roma tomatoes