Growing up in a house surrounded by walnut trees, the tasty bounty played a big role in the autumn meals of my childhood. In those days my mom didn’t know that toasting those frisky nuts would enhance their flavor, mellowing out acerbic edges. That came later.
Their toasted flavor is especially delicious when balancing out sweet or starchy dishes. This pasta recipe is one example. Showcasing diced sweet potato and a perky mint pesto, the combination is delectable. The recipe is sourced from a new cookbook from John Whaite, “A Flash in the Pan” (Kyle Books, $24.99); the book showcases healthful dishes that can be prepared in a short amount of time. I appreciate the shortcut of cooking the veg along with the pasta to save time.
Pasta with Walnuts, Feta, Sweet Potato and Mint Pesto
Yield: 2 servings or one very hungry diner
7 ounces dried fusilli pasta
1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 1/4 ounces walnut halves
Handful of fresh mint leaves
1 3/4 ounces feta cheese, plus crumbled feta for garnish
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons oil, canola or extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. Toast walnuts: Heat medium saucepan over high heat. Add walnuts and toast, shaking pan frequently, until toasted (be cautious because nuts burn easily) – about 1 minute. Remove from pan and set aside.
2. Fill saucepan half full of well-salted water. Bring to boil on high heat. Add pasta and sweet potato. Boil for 8 minutes (pasta should be al dente — if the package directions say 10 minutes, cook the pasta for 2 minutes and then add the sweet potato and boil for an additional 8 minutes); drain, but reserve 2 tablespoons of the starchy cooking water. Meanwhile, carry on with the pesto. In a food processor, preferably a mini-size food processor, put all pesto ingredients plus 1/2 teaspoon salt and toasted walnuts. Pulse on-off until partially pureed but still mostly chunky, scraping down sides as needed.
3. Stir the reserved 2 tablespoons of cooking water into pesto. Return pasta and sweet potato to pan; add pesto and toss. Serve topped with reserved crumbled feta and a pinch of salt if needed.
More on Chef’s Special