Peruvian-style Pesto Pasta

Although recent, the Italian influence on Peruvian cuisine is undeniably strong. Italians arrived in Peru at the beginning of the 20th century, and as soon as they set foot in their new land they started doing what they knew best: cooking. Peruvians were immediately seduced by the refreshing ways in which these newcomers used all kinds of vegetables to prepare their simple yet novel dishes.

Tallarines verdes is a creamy green pasta dish, created by joining the Italian pesto with local flavors. In my version, I’ve replaced the wheat pasta with gluten-free brown rice pasta. Queso fresco (fresh cheese) is used instead of Parmesan (I replaced it with feta in this recipe, as it resembles the salty and milky qualities of queso fresco better than other commercial cheeses). Spinach is added to the basil, and everything is mixed with milk, probably to make it more abundant, which is the way Peruvians like their food.

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup olive oil, divided
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 cups spinach leaves, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 cup basil leaves
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ¼ cup pecans
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup shelled fresh fava beans
  • ½ cup asparagus pieces, cut in 1-inch chunks (about ¼ pound asparagus)
  • 1 (16-ounce) bag brown rice penne (see Kitchen Tip)
  • ½ cup shaved Parmesan cheese

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. At the same time, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large sauté pan set over over medium heat, add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring and shaking the pan, for 3 to 4 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden brown. Don’t let them brown completely, because the garlic will turn bitter.
  3. Add the spinach, and cook, stirring for about 1 minute, or until it wilts.
  4. Transfer this mixture to a blender or food processor and add the basil, milk, feta cheese, pecans, the remaining olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper. Process until creamy, and set aside.
  5. When the water boils, add the remaining1 teaspoon salt and the favas, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the asparagus and continue cooking for 3 more minutes.
  6. Prepare a bowl of water and ice and position it near the stove. After the asparagus has cooked for 3 minutes, using a slotted spoon, transfer all of the vegetables to the ice water to stop the cooking process. Keep the water boiling in the pot you used for the vegetables and cook the pasta in it, following the package instructions.
  7. While the pasta is cooking, peel the fava beans and discard the skins.
  8. When it’s ready, drain the pasta through a strainer, return it to the empty pan, and pour the green pesto cream and cooked vegetables on top and mix well. Divide the pasta and vegetables evenly between 4 pasta bowls or dinner plates, and sprinkle 2 tablespoons of shaved Parmesan cheese on top of each.

Kitchen Tips

  • This dish is usually prepared with regular spaghetti, so use that if you want a more traditional feel.
  • The added vegetables are also my personal touch. If you prefer the original tallarines verdes—just pasta and pesto—serve the vegetables on their own, sprinkled with grated Parmesan cheese, or top them with a breaded steak or fish fillet, if you’re not a vegetarian.
  • If you prefer, you can use frozen fava beans or frozen baby lima beans instead of fresh. In this case, cook them together with the asparagus, for 3 minutes.

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