Monday, September 14, 2015

Meatless Monday - Nut Free Sunflower Seed Pesto

It's that time again - Meatless Monday. This week we challenged ourselves to not only prepare a meat-free dinner, but to make a popular vegetarian pasta preparation nut-free too. Pesto is a great way to use leftover Herbs and Lettuces, and part of what makes Pesto amazing is the addition of Nuts in most, if not all, traditional recipes. That's why it's a risky proposition for the allergic, unless, of course, you make it yourself. 

Campanelle with Nut-Free Sunflower Seed Pesto, Photo: NK 
While you'll normally find Pignoli (aka Pine Nuts) in Pesto, other Nuts like Almonds, Walnuts, and even Pistachios are popular choices these days. This is all well and good, unless you have a nut allergy, as many do, sadly, in rapidly increasing numbers. While the reason behind the statistical spike in food allergies noted over the past few decades is the subject of much scientific debate, we can all agree that everyone should be able to safely enjoy such a popular dish. 

Today's clever nut-free Pesto achieves much of the nutty and herbacious deliciousness you find in the original version, without making it inaccessible to those with nut allergies. The secret ingredient is Sunflower Seeds (just be sure you don't have an allergy to seeds before you try it). 

After some experimentation, I came up with an easy version drawing from a recipe for Nut-Free Arugula Pesto I adapted out of Bon Appetit Magazine,  Although the original recipe recommends soaking the Sunflower Seeds overnight, we prepared ours without doing so and the result was still great. If you have the time and forethought, absolutely soak them. The Seeds have a slightly toothier texture when not soaked, but the food processor you use will ensure that the bits of crunch are very small. I happen to like the texture that we achieved. Soaking the Seeds may also help release some additional flavor, but again, we were very happy with the result of our 10 minute version.

Finally, because I simply can't fathom Pesto without a healthy dose of grated Parmigiana Cheese blended in, our version incorporates it to round out the brightness of the Lemon Juice and Zest, while blending with the aromatic Basil and peppery Arugula. 

Campanelle (pictured above) is an awesome pasta shape for Pesto. The name refers to the pasta's "bell" shape, and the wavy edges capture the Pesto perfectly and evenly. Whatever pasta you choose, I am sure you'll enjoy this nut-free favorite whether or not you're on a special diet. Now let's Mangia! 

Nut-Free Sunflower Seed Arugula Pesto
Serves 4, enough for 1 Pound of Pasta
Adapted from Bon Appetit

Ingredients:  1/4 Cup Raw Shelled Sunflower Seen
1 Cup of Basil, packed (a few sprigs set aside for garnish)
1 Cup of Arugula or Baby Arugula, packed
1 teaspoon freshly grated Lemon Zest
2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
1 small Garlic Clove
1 teaspoon of Honey or Light Agave
1/2 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 Cup Freshly Grated Parmigiana Cheese
2 large pinches of Kosher Salt

Method:  1. Blend all the ingredients together in a a food processor until smooth. 
2. Toss right away with cooked Pasta that is has been boiled in well-salted water. Taste for seasoning and add a little Salt if needed.
3. Serve with extra Parmigiana and a Basil garnish and enjoy! 

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