In day to day life it’s the small things that make me happy. You know the kind of things that I mean –
- Arriving for school pick-up (a couple of minutes late … whoops) and securing THE parking space, right next to the gate. Virtual high five ensues between me and the ‘on-gate-duty’ caretaker. He understood that particular small thing.
- Waking up in the middle of the night and finding that there’s still plenty of hours to go before the alarm.
- Going out to buy a particular (rather specialist) book for a friend’s birthday … finding it … and then discovering that it’s in the sale. More virtual high fives.
- Making a perfect cup of coffee, just when the need for a perfect cup of coffee is at its peak.
- Opening the door of an empty dishwasher.
- Finding myself in a packed supermarket car park; spotting a free space; finding that someone had got there just before me and then discovering, to my delight that he (and yes, it was a ‘he’) was such a hopeless parker that he needed to give up and surrender the space to me. More VHFs and a big smug factor to boot.
Yes, it’s the small things for sure, so putting together a spontaneous, simple mid-week dinner that turns out to be spectacularly delicious … well, it’s a small thing but it makes me SO happy that I want to share it with you.
The dinner in question was Homemade Pesto with Spaghetti – a fresh, homemade pesto tossed through hot strands of spaghetti and finished with some golden, crunchy, ‘straight from the frying pan’ lardons. Happiness on a plate.
I’ve talked about making pesto before in the context of food for sharing. On this recent occasion, I had a bumper crop of basil from the garden and tweaked my previous recipe with a good glug of lemon juice to cut through some of the richness from the Parmesan and the pine nuts. So simple but so good.
And the choice of pasta seemed critical to the dish’s success too. I don’t buy spaghetti (or ‘long spaghetti’ as I used to call it as a child) very often – too much opportunity for a shirt full of dinner, if I’m honest – but somehow it does seem to make any sauce taste infinitely better and certainly more special. This time I had bought a type of spaghetti called Bavette, a narrower version of tagliatelle, it’s similar to a flattened spaghetti. Bizarrely, when I googled it so that I could tell you all, I discovered that it is most frequently paired with traditional pesto sauces … well fancy that. I could pretend that I had known that all along, but actually, I just liked the look of the shape. That’s how shallow I am.
So here’s why I’m certain that this simple mid-week dinner will also make you insanely happy –
- Making pesto is ridiculously easy. Basil + Parmesan + Lemon + Pine nuts + Garlic + Olive Oil … Blitz in a blender / food processor and you’re done.
- This recipe makes enough for 2 lots of pasta for 6 people – and it will keep nicely in an airtight jar in the fridge for a week or so, or alternatively freezes beautifully. Ice cube trays work well if you’d rather freeze it in small portions.
- Get the pesto made ahead of time (it’s a perfect job for your bright-eyed morning self) and you have an instant dinner all ready to go.
- Although there is a time and a place for the jarred variety (think our family’s number 1 favourite go-to dinner Pesto Pasta), the fresh stuff wins hands down in looks, flavour and texture.
- Adding anything on the bacon spectrum to most things is a winner and this is no exception. I always keep a couple of packets of lardons in the freezer and then fry them up from frozen when I need them. You won’t even need to add any oil to the pan, the lardons provide their own.
- Serve this dinner in some large, flat bowls with the pasta swirled in a mini-mountain in the middle and this looks fancy enough for a simple entertaining dish too. I’m picturing it with a fresh, crisp salad and a glass of something chilled …
So, enough of this happy talk… Add this to your list of ‘must try recipes’ and look forward to a simple dish of happiness.
- For the pesto -
- 2 large bunches of basil, (my bunch was 110g (4oz)) - just use the leaves
- 110g (4oz) pine nuts
- 2 garlic cloves
- 110g (4oz) Parmesan, finely grated
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 150ml (5floz) olive oil
- salt and pepper
- For the pasta -
- 500g (1lb) spaghetti, I used Bavette
- a splash of olive oil
- 150g (5oz) lardons
- Add all the pesto ingredients to a blender or food processor and blitz until it is the right consistency - you still want to see a little texture in it. Taste and adjust the seasoning, also adding more lemon if it needs it.
- Boil a large pan of salted water and add a splash of oil. Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. It will be altogether lovelier if the spaghetti still retains a little bite i.e. 'al dente'.
- While the spaghetti is cooking, tip the lardons into a small saucepan and fry until they are crispy, golden and smelling delicious.
- Drain the cooked spaghetti and stir some pesto through, adjusting the quantity depending on how you like it.
- Now use a large fork, around which to twirl a portion of spaghetti and place it on a plate. Sprinkle with the cooked lardons and enjoy immediately.