As great as traditional basil pesto is, it's not the only kind of pesto. Parsley, spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, and even carrot tops can also be used to make pesto—and, unlike the big, fragrant bunches of basil available in the summer, are abundant year-round.
You can also sub out the standard pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, which are wonderful but costly ingredients. We particularly like the combination of Swiss chard, cilantro, sunflower seeds, and pecorino; it complements everything from pasta to roast chicken to a grilled cheese sandwich.
Swiss chard stems and ribs are too fibrous for the pesto, but rather than throw them away, sauté them in some olive oil and eat them or use them in a soup or vegetable stock.
If you have a container of Swiss Chard Pesto (recipe follows) in the fridge or freezer, just boil some pasta and dinner is ready. Alternatively, you can make the pesto in the time it takes to cook the noodles. And there's so much green in this dish that we count it as a serving of vegetables, too. That's our kind of weeknight meal.
Rigatoni With Swiss Chard Pesto
(Makes 4 to 6 servings and 1 2/3 cups pesto)
1 pound rigatoni
1 cup Swiss Chard Pesto (recipe follows)
Olive oil for finishing the dish
Freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
For Swiss chard pesto:
3 well-packed cups green Swiss chard leaves (stems and center ribs removed), torn into large pieces
3 garlic cloves
Grated zest of 1 lemon, and juice
Salt and pepper
1/3 cup toasted sunflower seeds
Handful of cilantro
2/3 cup olive oil, plus extra, if needed
1 cup freshly grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese
1. To make the Swiss chard pesto: In a food processor, combine the Swiss chard, garlic, lemon zest, a big splash of lemon juice, 2 large pinches of salt, and some pepper. Pulse a few times to combine, pushing down the chard as needed. Add the sunflower seeds and cilantro and pulse until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow stream and process until incorporated. Add a little more oil, if needed. Transfer the pesto to a medium bowl, stir in the cheese, then check the seasonings.
2. To make the pasta: Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Season the water generously with salt; it should taste like seawater. When it returns to a boil, add the pasta, quickly stir to separate the noodles, then cover the pot. When the water returns to a boil again, uncover and boil the pasta until al dente, stirring occasionally.
3. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water, then transfer the noodles to a large bowl. Add the pesto, a drizzle of oil, and a large splash of the cooking water, and toss to combine. If the pasta looks dry, add some more of the cooking water. Check the seasonings and serve with the cheese.
Adapted from Keepers