RECIPE: Walnut Pesto with Penne


So I got into grad school and I learned two things very quickly; 1) this is a larger undertaking than I imagined and 2) I don’t have the time I used to. My mornings now start at 5:30 a.m. with an open book by 5:45 a.m., if I’m lucky I make it on the 8:10 a.m. bus that gets me to work by 9 a.m. I work for the entire day, stay late to continue reading that book I opened at 5:45 a.m. and when I get on the 6:35 p.m. bus headed towards home, I am spent, but the reading must continue! Most evenings I don’t want anything but takeout and wine, which are not easy on the pocket. After the first few weeks of blowing my entertainment budget on weeknight takeout I decided I needed a better plan. What I came up with, is what I like to call the Weeknight Pasta Pot.

Basically, on Sunday I crack open a box of whatever pasta was on sale that week, and make the biggest dish I can to last me through the week. I won’t lie, for a foodie like me it’s pretty hard to eat the same exact thing every night of a week and luckily I have a partner to help eat these massive amounts of pasta. I’ll be sharing my weeknight pasta adventures with you. All are fairly simple and you’d be surprised how adventurous things can get. What I’ve re-learned is pasta doesn’t really have to be Italian inspired – after all noodles are a cornerstone of Asian cuisine as well.

Today I’ll be covering walnut pesto, which was an amazing find! I paired this pesto with penne because it has those tiny ridges that help sauces like pesto hold on evenly. This is a pesto that truly gets better over time, just like marinara sauce. By Thursday the pasta had the most amazing flavor. It was as if the garlic and oregano had intensified and the olive oil displayed a slight fruitiness. I had a little of the pesto left over and topped a piece of salmon over the weekend… AMAZING! Ok, let’s get on with the recipe.


Penne and Walnut Pesto


4- 5 slices Day old crusty bread
1 ½ cups Walnut pieces
1 box Penne pasta
½ cup Fresh Basil
3 cloves Garlic
½ tsp Red chili flakes (or less if you like)
½ tsp Lemon zest
¼ cup Lemon juice
½ cup Olive Oil


Preheat the oven to 300F. Cut bread into ¾ inch thick slices and place on a baking tray with the walnuts. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until the bread is completely dried out and the walnuts are lightly toasted. Try very hard not to burn your walnuts or they will be bitter.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta using the direction listed on the packaging. Retain ½ cup of pasta water, drain and return the pasta to the pot

Break the bread in to chucks and place in a food processor. Add the walnuts basil, garlic, chili flakes, lemon zest and juice. Use the pulse button to chop the mixture without forming a paste. Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in the oil.

Lastly, toss the walnut mixture through the pasta, and season with salt and pepper to your liking. If you find the pesto is to thick you can use a bit of the pasta water to toss along with the pesto/pasta mix.


Note: Don’t add the oil to the food processor or the pesto will lose its crunchy texture. Other pastas that would pair well with this recipe are tiny or medium sized conchiglie (shells) and rigatoni.