There is something very precise about American cooking, perhaps because grocery ingredients are so standardized in this country—a luxury that I so often take for granted. However, Italian cooking is a different beast all together. Many of my cherished Italian recipes from family and friends call for a q.b. or quantobasta (which literally translated means how much is enough), a handful, or my personal favorite, an eggshell full. There is something very comforting about letting the measuring cups/ spoons sleep in on a lazy, rainy Sunday morning while you whip up a batch of meatballs and red sauce. While made frequently in our house, many of those recipes often go un-shared in this virtual space. For one, while all from scratch, they are certainly not stat, because that would defeat the purpose wouldn’t it? And for two, readers, including myself, crave reliability. Every once in a while I do write down the proportions, but they are rough estimates and hardly suited for the food blogosphere. In Italian cooking, as in medicine, there is a subtle transition point where one moves away from thinking about everything one is doing, to simply just doing it.
More candidly put, Italian cooking is like love— Messy but beautiful. No one can tell you exactly how to do it (but they can show you). Furthermore, although everyone insists that their way is the best, only those who are wise truly understand there is no perfect way to go about it. And lastly, in order to succeed you must throw your heart into it, fail a few times, and try again. And after all of that, if it still doesn’t taste quite right: it is undoubtedly a pinch of salt that you are missing.
While I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, I have resolved to work on my interpretation of quantobasta every week. You see a lot of Italian cooking is trial and error. And while we do make a lot of this type of food at home, you don’t see much of it in this virtual space because well that’s the point. The goal of From Scratch Stat is branch out of my comfort zone, and Middle Eastern/Italian cuisine is my comfort zone. Kale in pasta? Well that’s outside my comfort zone, and may or may not offend your Italian grandmother.
So for evenings you don’t have time to spend hours basking in the aroma of a slowly simmered red sauce, I bring you this quick kale and pumpkin seed winter pesto. Perfect for the pesto junkie that just can’t give it up come winter time. Although the real solution here is to freeze your summer batches, there is something to be said about the wintery depth that the kale and roasted pepitas bring to this take on the traditional. While traditionally pesto is hand chopped to yield flecks of deliciousness of varying sizes, do yourself a favor and whip out your food processor on that busy weeknight. Your Nonna will forgive you (some day), I promise.
- ½ cup toasted pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed*
- 2 cups densely packed chopped kale leaves
- 1 cup moderately packed fresh basil leaves
- 1½ oz. (¾ cup) Parmesan cheese, grated, plus more for serving
- ½-1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- ⅓-½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 lb. whole wheat pasta, such as linguine**
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the pepitas, garlic, kale, basil, Parmesan and red pepper flakes. Pulse until finely ground, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the olive oil in a slow stream with the food processor running and continue until incorporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Add the pasta to the pot and cook according to the package directions until al dente. Drain, reserving ¾ cup of the pasta water.
- Return the pasta to the pot. Add a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water to the pesto, then toss the pesto with the pasta. Add the remaining water as needed.
- *Alternatively, if you are not a big fan of raw garlic, you may toast the cloves (skin on) until lightly browned, turning as needed. Then remove from heat and peel when cool.
- **This pesto keeps excellently in the fridge or freezer, but leftover pasta dishes are never so great. To avoid this, we like to halve the pasta amount and store the remaining pesto for later use.