Monday, May 23, 2011

Pasta, Basil Pesto Cashew Cream & Peas

I used to serve this dish when I worked at the restaurant except that it was made with heavy cream instead of cashew cream.  Back then, I had no idea how simple it was to use nuts as a substitute for heavy cream, or I would of switched a long time ago.  The health benefits of eating cashews are endless.  They are high in protein and soluble fiber, contain heart friendly monounsaturated fats, B vitamins, and numerous minerals such as magnesium, potassium, copper, iron, and zinc.  I don't think that you can say the same about consuming heavy cream!

And the dish tastes better too!  It's not as heavy and the fresh flavor of the basil really comes through.  It's also feels good to eat something and not feel guilty afterwards! This dish takes a little planning because you need to soak the cashews overnight, but it's worth the wait.  It also helps if you have a high powered blender such as a VitaMix, which I do not have.  I have a cheap blender and so I had to let it run on high for about 4 minutes to really puree the nuts.  

Basil Pesto Cashew Cream:

1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight in filtered water to cover, about two cups
1 small onion, sliced 
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 bunches fresh basil leaves, about 3-4 cups, blanched
2 tsp salt (or to taste)
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2-1 cup vegetable stock

  • Soak cashews overnight in the refrigerator, completely covered in about two cups of filtered water.
  • Drain cashews and place in a blender and cover with water and blend on high for about 4 minutes until creamy.  Add more water if necessary.
  • Strain cashew cream through a fine mesh strainer, lined with cheesecloth into a bowl and set aside.  You should have about two cups of cream, maybe more.
  • Remove basil leaves from stems and blanch in boiling water for 30 seconds and then shock in an ice bath to stop cooking and retain bright color, drain and set aside.
  • In a small saute pan, cook onions and garlic and a little salt and pepper in olive oil on medium-low heat until soft, about 5-7 minutes.  Add about 1/4 cup of vegetable stock to prevent burning.  You do not want to brown the onions or burn the garlic.  Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes.
  • Return cashew cream back to the blender, add onion mixture, basil leaves and blend until smooth, adding additional vegetable stock to get the right consistency of cream.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Strain basil cashew cream through a fine mesh strainer.  You do not need cheesecloth for the second straining.  You should have about 3 cups of basil cashew cream when finished and it should be bright green.  
Other Ingredients:

1 pound whole wheat pasta of choice
2 cups blanched English Peas
1 bag baby spinach leaves
1-2 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted (for garnish)
Fresh basil leaves, (for garnish)
Juice of 1 or 2 lemons
Salt & Pepper to taste

  • Cook pasta according to package directions in salted water.
  • In a large saute pan, add cooked pasta, some vegetable stock, spinach and peas and toss together and cook until spinach wilts.  
  • Pour over basil cashew cream, toss and heat through and then remove from heat.  Do not over cook the sauce because you want to retain the bright green color.  Check seasonings again and add salt and pepper if needed.  
  • Garnish with toasted pine nuts, fresh basil leaves and a squeeze of lemon juice...Enjoy!

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