Add a wee kick to fresh tomato pesto pasta

Gretchen McKay
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Summer calls for dishes that don’t require a lot of prep, hinge on seasonal produce and can be served either chilled or at room temperature, depending on the temperature of where you’ll be eating it.

This pesto-dressed bowl of pasta fits the bill perfectly. Made with fresh cherry tomatoes and basil right out of the garden (or from your favorite farmer), the sauce requires only a quick whirl in a food processor or blender to come together.

I use a mix of toasted slivered almond and toasted cashews, but you could easily choose one or the other. Chili pepper olive oil from Liokareas adds the tiniest bit of a spicy kick, but you could also double up on the amount of regular olive oil and simply add a pinch or two of crushed red pepper flakes instead.

It’s served here over rigatoni, but the pesto is also pretty tasty as a spread for bruschetta or tucked into a sandwich; thinned with a little more olive oil, it makes a welcome dip on a charcuterie board. Add a green salad and some crusty Italian bread and you’ve got a great summer supper with plenty of leftovers for lunch.

Pesto made with fresh tomatoes, lots of Parmesan and olive oil flavored with chili peppers makes for an easy pasta sauce.

Pasta With Fresh Tomato Pesto and Chili

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup cashews, toasted
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 large handful basil leaves, about 1 cup packed
  • 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, with a few reserved for garnish
  • Pinch or two of kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin chili pepper olive oil
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1 pound cooked rigatoni, warm or room temperature

Place nuts and garlic in the bowl of a food processor or blender, and pulse together until finely chopped. Scrape down sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula.

Add the basil and tomatoes and pulse again to combine. Add Parmesan cheese along with a pinch or two of salt, and pulse several times more. Scrape down the sides again with spatula.

With the motor running, add the oil in a thin stream until combined. If pesto is too thick, add a little more olive oil until you reach the desired consistency.

Place cooked rigatoni in a bowl, then add pesto and toss well to combine. Spoon into bowls, and drizzle with a little more olive oil, if desired.

Serve garnished with reserved tomato, with additional Parmesan on the side. Add a green salad and bread for a full meal.

Serves 6-8.

— Gretchen McKay