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Freeze the extra—if there is any—when you make this quick pea pesto for busy weeknights.

When life is so crazy that you don’t have time to make it to the grocery store, let alone worry about eating healthy, it’s good to have a handful of nutritious, back-pocket recipes that use pantry and fridge staples. This easy pesto is one of my busy weeknight go-to recipes since I can always find a bag of peas and some previously frozen herbs somewhere in the freezer. This meatless dish is quick, inexpensive but sure to please—picky toddlers included.  

Before you pull out your food processor, here are five tips to save time, money and get the most nutritional bang for your buck out of this delicious dish.

Freeze extra herbs. Unless you are fortunate enough to grow fresh herbs year-round, you know buying them can get expensive and often leaves you with way more than you need. What you may not know is fresh herbs can be frozen for later use in a variety of dishes, from soups and stews to — you guessed it—pesto! This little trick not only can save money but also future trips to the grocery store.

For this dish, simply wash leftover mint and/or basil leaves, lay them in a single layer on a clean towel and allow to dry. Transfer leaves to a labeled zip-top baggie and press out all the air before freezing. The next time you make this pesto (and believe me, there will be a next time), simply pull out what you need and add your herbs straight to the food processor.

Add extra fiber with whole-grain pasta. One hundred percent whole-grain pasta can provide nearly triple the fiber of traditional white flour. The big benefit of this? You’re more likely to feel fuller on fewer carbs. If you’re not a whole-grain pasta convert just yet, start by using a 50/50 mix of traditional and whole wheat until you get used to the new taste and texture.

Get in some extra veggies. If you’ve got some additional veggies in the fridge, like sliced mushrooms, broccoli or asparagus, roast or saute them while the pasta cooks and add them to the dish for a boost of fiber, vitamins and minerals. It’s an easy and delicious way to get in an extra serving or two of veggies!

Up the protein. Peas are a great source of plant-based protein, but adding 1 cup of ricotta cheese to this dish will add 28 grams of quality protein, or an additional 5 to 7 grams per serving.

Freeze half. This recipe makes enough pesto for two entire boxes of pasta. Freeze half the pesto for a quick and delicious “emergency meal” another night. Simply combine remaining pesto and loose peas in a zip-top bag and freeze flat to save space. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for a few hours.

Easy Pea Pesto

Makes 2¼ cups pesto + 1 cup loose peas (enough for 2 pounds dry pasta)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 (16-ounce) bag frozen peas (about 3 cups), divided
  • 3-4 sprigs fresh basil and/or mint, leaves picked from stems
  • cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving, if desired
  • cup toasted pine nuts or chopped walnuts
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and ends trimmed
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more, as needed

DIRECTIONS

Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Blanch frozen peas for two minutes (or 90 seconds, if defrosted), drain and immediately rinse with cold tap water.

In a food processor, combine 2 cups blanched peas, herbs, Parmesan cheese, nuts, salt and garlic and process until all ingredients are very finely chopped. With processor running, drizzle in olive oil, adding a touch more, if needed, until pesto is smooth and creamy.

If serving over pasta, cook 16-ounces pasta to desired tenderness in generously salted water, reserving 1 cup pasta water. When cooked, return pasta to the pot with ½ of the pesto and ½ remaining peas over low heat. Immediately add reserved pasta water ½ cup at a time and stir gently until well-coated.

Serve immediately with shaved or grated Parmesan, torn mint and/or basil, flaky sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Freeze leftover pesto with remaining peas, if desired. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight or on the counter for a few hours before using.

Photo Credit: Elle Penner

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