What is your 'go-to' dinner?
I think we've all got one. It's the dinner that you can rustle up while on automatic pilot; you can make it when your brain is too full of 'stuff' to think; you can make it when you had to get up at a time with a 4 in it; you can make it when it's been one of those weeks and you've lost the will to cook. It's your 'brainless crowd pleaser'.
Our 'go-to' dinner is affectionately known simply as Pesto Pasta.
Pesto Pasta is what I cook when dinner needs to be speedy and I want to be sure that everyone will clear their plates with no drama; it's what I cook when we have fussy school friends over to eat; it's what I cook if one of the children is feeling a bit rubbish; it's what I cook when we arrive on holiday after a long flight; I have cooked it by candlelight in a power cut and it's my fall back dinner when I am clean out of culinary inspiration.
It's a popular dinner with everyone from toddlers to ravenous teenagers and, with the addition of a fresh salad and a glass of something white and chilled, it's perfect for a more mature audience too.
But what makes this interpretation of Pesto Pasta so special?
For me, it is the addition of three killer ingredients - lardons, crème fraîche and frozen peas. The saltiness of the lardons is balanced by the sweetness of the peas and the crème fraîche really lightens up the richness of the pesto. Bingo!
And what tips can I share with you, having made this Pesto Pasta about a trillion times?
- Lardons are easier than bacon slices - When I first started making Pesto Pasta, I used rashers of bacon that I would then snip up with scissors. This was hardly a drama but we are trying to minimise the fuss here. When I shopped for the ingredients while on holiday in France, I found that bacon sold in rashers, was a little tricky to find ... unlike 'lardons' which I could find on every street corner. Now I rarely use anything else - it tastes even better and is more speedy too.
- This is not a dish where quantities need to be precise - You can adjust the amount of lardons and peas according to taste and also adapt the ratio of crème fraîche to pesto, to your preference. Sometimes I use homemade pesto and this requires a little less pesto as the flavour is more intense.
- Don't miss out on the peas - Even the smallest village food store will have a bag of frozen peas, although I must confess that I was once forced to compromise by using a bag of frozen peas mixed with diced carrots - not one of my culinary highlights ...
- Often, I just leave the peas to defrost and throw them into the hot, cooked pasta - this way, they retain their bright green colour and a bit more texture
- Choose wholemeal pasta for hungry diners - I often choose wholemeal pasta to keep everyone fuller for longer. The (male) drama queens in our family talk of 'waking up hungry' when I even contemplate white pasta. For these photos, I was a rebel and chose white - whatever next?
- Portion the leftovers first - The children love a sneaky little box of this in their packed lunch the next day - but BE WARNED ... dish up the lunch portions and get them out of sight before the family descend on dinner - this is a notorious meal for seconds ... and thirds.
- Add some more liquid to the leftovers - And if you do manage to enjoy the experience that is 'next day leftovers', remember that when the pasta is hot, it will absorb almost all of the crème fraîche and pesto. I am inclined to stir in some reserved pasta water or mix a big dollop of extra crème fraîche and pesto into the mix the next day ... even if it will be eaten cold. And it's pretty good cold too...
This is one of the most popular recipes on this site. Even if you already have your own trusty interpretation of Pesto Pasta, I encourage you to give this one a try - you won't be disappointed and it may even turn out to be your own brainless crowd pleaser ...
And if you fancy reading about what happened when two teenagers tackled making Pesto Pasta for the family, you can read about it here.