Some weeks I feel like I’m cooking just to keep up with the wilting greens in my fridge. I try my best to grocery shop with a plan of attack, and not just let my eyes and appetite do the choosing, otherwise I’d be up to my ears in organic produce and very poor. But part of cooking for my private client every week means that I end up coming home with lots of scraps of this and that. A lot of the time it’s a partially used bunch of herbs or half a clam shell of salad greens. And if so, I immediately turn them into a pesto.
In this case, the leftover greens du jour were a few handfuls of baby arugula. It takes me a while every spring before I actually want to start eating lettuce again. I’m just getting to a place right now when I can have a salad for lunch an not want to gnaw my arm off by 4pm. But at the time of this pesto pasta salad recipe’s creation, I was still deeply entrenched in carb mode.
I love making arugula pesto because it lasts so much longer than regular basil, which tends to turn an unappetizing bile-y shade of green-brown after a few days in the fridge. One solution for this is to omit the lemon juice and add right before eating. Another is to store excess pesto in an ice cube tray and reheat individual servings when you’re ready to eat it. But this arugula version was gone after the first sitting, because I used it with my favorite pesto vehicle: gluten-free quinoa spaghetti.
Arugula pesto has a wonderful peppery-ness, which I try not to mask with a fist-full of parmesan cheese, as most pesto recipes are prone to do. Instead, I keep it simple with a little bit of lemon juice for brightness. Then to add in some of the anise flavor that’s missing without herbs, I top my pesto pasta dish with roasted fennel and some shaved ricotta salata for creaminess and tang.
It’s getting to be the time of year when you too may have plenty of green things lying around the fridge, due to grocery store self-control issues or garden overflow. If so, I hope you’ll add this meatless Monday dish to your recycle repertoire.
Arugula Pesto Pasta with Roasted Fennel and Ricotta Salata
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
On a parchment lined baking sheet, toss the fennel with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Arrange in an even layer. Roast in the middle of the oven until golden brown and caramelized, about 40 minutes, flipping them halfway through. Set aside.
Meanwhile, combine the pepitas, garlic, arugula, lemon juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add more oil as necessary. Taste for seasoning. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
When ready to eat, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions. Drain and immediately add to the pesto. Toss until fully coated.
Cut ricotta into cubes or shavings using a vegetable peeler.
Divide the pasta among 2 bowls and top with the crispy fennel and shaved ricotta salata. Serve warm or at room temperature.
If you omit the lemon juice, the pesto can be made 2 days in advance. Mix in before serving. The roasted fennel will keep for up to a week in the fridge.