Pesto is always one of my favourite go-tos when it comes to sauces. I always have fresh herbs on me every week and there is always a handful that seems to get leftover. Or perhaps you’re left with a bunch of stems or the herbs are starting wilt down and aren’t as fresh anymore. Hello pesto.
I don’t want to bore you with how many pesto variations recipes I’ve done on this blog. I am actually surprised that I’ve only posted three recipes involving pesto. Cilantro, parsley, basil, spinach, kale, stinging nettle, carrot top, beet greens, arugula, pea shoots – everything! I think it’s just so commonplace for me now and I’m never measuring things that I don’t even think about writing up a recipe.
I had to think of a menu for the Vancouver edition of Diner en Blanc, I had to think of something that can be consumed either cold or hot. My friend Neil was bringing in a charcuterie board and fruits to start as he was bringing the heavy chairs and tables. I had planned the rest of the menu: carrot, herb and bulgur salad, watercress and hazelnut pesto rotini, and an eton mess for dessert.
I’ve never cooked or used watercress in a recipe before. I’ve had it before, mostly as a side or garnish, but I’ve never intentionally bought it for a dish. I stopped by Sunrise Market with the intention of making an arugula pesto (tried and true!) but they didn’t have any available. Bags of watercress were only $1.00 so I went for it and took a risk. I mean, when blended with cheese, oil, lemon and nuts? It’s hard to fuck up.
Watercress is a dark leafy green and part of the kale and broccoli family. It’s peppery as well, although milder than arugula and it worked out so well with this pesto. I was actually worried about how peppery it would be so I added a little splash of balsamic vinegar to mellow it out, both in acidity and for some added sweetness. I was really happy with how the pesto turned out! So perfect with pasta, on top on salmon, with a nice piece of crusty bread… So good. Any leftovers can go right into the freezer!
WATERCRESS & HAZELNUT PESTO ROTINI – serves 4 – 6
1 (500g) pkg rotini
1 bunch of watercress, about 50g, some leftover for garnish
1/3 cup raw hazelnut
3 garlic cloves
1/3 cup grana padano, grated
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
¼ tsp white pepper
½ lemon, juice only
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, more if needed
In a pot of boiling salted water, cook the rotini according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
Put all of the remaining ingredients into the food processor, leaving aside a small handful of watercress. Blend the ingredients over low and add more olive oil if needed or until your desired consistency is reached.
Toss the pesto with the pasta and top with lightly massaged watercress with olive oil.