Pesto pairs perfectly with pasta, especially pesto made with watercress. Easy to prepare, pesto is rooted in Genoa, Italy, in the scenic province of Liguria. Dating back to the 16th century, pesto is one of the oldest oil-based sauces in Italy. It evolved because Ligurian sailors, wanting a change from fish and spicy foods, started to prefer the herbs and vegetables from the local countryside.
Traditionally pesto is made with olive oil, garlic, basil and pine nuts using a mortar and pestle to release the oils from basil and to give the mixture a smoother consistency. The word pesto itself originates from the word pestare – to pound or bruise. This recipe, though, substitutes the unique taste of watercress for basil. This cruciferous vegetable, which is not as strong as basil, has a wonderful peppery, tangy and slightly bitter flavor.
Adding toasted almonds creates both a satisfying and uniquely tasty blend, and boosts exceptional nutritional value as well. Watercress is rich in vitamins A, C and K, and also contains the cancer-preventive phytonutrient sulforaphane. The lemon juice provides just the right tartness and some more antioxidant vitamin C. Parmesan cheese finishes the pesto with its sharp, slightly nutty taste.
Make a complete meal by adding a tossed salad of cucumber, thin slices of red onion, tomato wedges and diced avocado dressed with a simple vinaigrette. Presto! Dinner is served.
Watercress Pesto Linguini
1 lb. whole-wheat linguine
10 oz. watercress (4 cups coarsely chopped), tough stems removed; 8 small sprigs for garnish
4 cloves garlic cloves, roughly chopped
4 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated, divided
1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
2 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In large pot, cook linguine al dente per package instructions. When pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup cooking water and set aside. Drain pasta in colander and return pasta to pot to keep warm.
In blender or food processer, blend watercress and garlic until finely chopped, about 20 seconds. Add cheese, nuts, oil and juice and blend into smooth purée, about 40 seconds. Salt and pepper to taste.
Pour pesto over linguine. Use reserved water to loosen remaining pesto from blender or processor and add to pasta. Gently stir pesto and pasta together and top with remaining 2 tablespoons cheese. Garnish with small sprigs of watercress.
Makes 8 servings.
Per serving: 271 calories, 10 g total fat, (1.5 g saturated fat), 40 g carbohydrate, 10 g protein, 7 g dietary fiber, 57 mg sodium.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $100 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International.