Today is such an exciting day for me as I have been patiently waiting to share this recipe with you! After so much trial & error I finally came up with a recipe I am proud to call my own. I will be sharing with you my recipe for the perfect pesto pasta that is not only delicious but loaded with a variety of nutrients. Pesto is one of those foods that I know so many people love but it can typically be pretty price to make at home all because of the very pricey pine nuts. Not only is pesto a little pricey to make at home but it is also not the healthiest. Pesto is is typically loaded with olive oil & Parmesan cheese which contributes quite a bit of calories in just a small amount. In order to make this pesto healthier & more cost-effective I made a few changes.
Change #1: We added peas!
In order to boost the nutritional value of an otherwise calorie-dense & nutrient-poor sauce I decided to add in sweet peas. Peas provide an excellent source of fiber, plant-protein, vitamin C, and a variety of other vitamins & minerals. Not only do they help to bulk up this sauce, but it also helps to give it that pretty green color. However, once you heat the pesto it does tend to turn into a more neutral color, but if you choose to enjoy in a cold pasta salad it will retain it’s beautiful bright green color.
Change #2: We swapped pine nuts for sunflower seeds
As I was brainstorming on how to make this pesto sauce more affordable but still retain the delicious flavor I had to think about what the most accessible nut/seeds are around so no matter where you live you can give this recipe a try. After lots of brainstorming, I finally realized that just about anywhere you can purchase sunflower seeds. Sunflower seeds make the perfect substitute for pine nuts as they still provide a nutty & buttery taste but for a fraction of the price. For a small 8 oz. bag of pine nuts, you can buy 3-4 bags of sunflower seeds. Once again, sunflower seeds are not only high in fiber but also boast a significant amount of iron which is so important for blood circulation. In addition, the types of fat that make up sunflower seeds is unsaturated (polyunsaturated & monounsaturated). For more info about the different types of fats & how there impact on your health feel free to check out my post the Facts on Fat.
Change #3: We skipped the Parmesan & substituted nutritional yeast.
Okay so before I lose you & you think i’m crazy, hear me out. We didn’t completely ditch the cheese in this dish as we topped it with some yummy Pecorino Romano at the end. However, for the pesto sauce itself we decided to go for a healthier alternative that would still give the same cheesy flavor. For those of you who are unfamiliar, nutritional yeast is a deactivated yeast that is often used as a cheese replacement for those who are vegan/ vegetarian. Regardless if you follow a plant-based lifestyle or not, nutritional yeast is an incredible alternative as it offers a cheesy flavor to any dish while also contributing an abundance of B vitamins. In just 1/4 cup of nutritional yeast you get 8 grams of protein, 3 grams of fiber, and also contains calcium, potassium, and iron. You can typically purchase it in bulk online but I have found it several times at my local health store as well as at Trader Joes.
As you can see, all these changes help to make this a much healthier choice and gives you all the more reason to lather this on your favorite pasta, in your sandwich, or even as your salad dressing. Now that you know why this is a healthier choice, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what you will need to make this yourself.
Serves about 4-6
2 cups of sauce
- 1 cup cooked sweet peas ( I used frozen & steamed them)
- 1 1/2 overflowing handful of fresh basil
- 1/2 cup unsalted & seeded sunflower seeds
- 1/4 cup olive oil + 3 tbsp
- 3 cloves garlic
- 1/2 cup nutritional yeast
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
- 8 oz. cooked whole wheat pasta (I used linguine)
- 1/3 cup reserved pasta water
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 1 shallot thinly sliced
- pinch of salt & pepper
- 2 pieces of lemon peel**
optional: grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
**NOTE: Using a potato peeler, peel 2 pieces of lemon to use in the sauce. The lemon peel holds a great deal of flavor & really helps to bring out the flavor.
- 20 peeled & deveined shrimp
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 1 1/4 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
- Begin by preparing the pesto by adding in all the ingredients into a food processor to fully combine. Once it has been completely combined set aside.
- Bring water to a boil & salt the water liberally. Once the water is boiling cook your pasta according to the package directions & set aside.
- Over a grill top/cast iron skillet or on a grill outside begin to cook the shrimp until they have developed a nice char on the outside. I highly recommend this as it helps to give some extra flavor.
- After the shrimp have finished cooking cover them with foil and set aside
- Once your pasta is finished, drain some of the water but reserve about 1/3 cup of the pasta water to use for the sauce.
- In a non-stick pan, add a drizzle of olive oil & cook the shallots on medium heat to soften for about 2-3 minutes. At this time you will also add in the 2 pieces of lemon peel to cook along with it.
- Next, add in the the cherry tomatoes & allow to cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.
- To the pan, first add the pasta & mix to combine with the shallot/ tomato mixture. Once it has been thoroughly combined, add in about 3/4 cup of the pesto along with 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water.
- Turn off the heat on your stove at this point or keep it on the lowest heat setting to avoid overcooking the tomatoes.
- Toss everything to equally combine & to ensure that the sauce is the consistency you like. You can also add additional pesto in if you would like a thicker sauce.
- At this point, you can now remove the pieces of the lemon peel.
- Once the sauce is to your liking, throw in the shrimp & toss a final time.
- Add a final pinch of salt, pepper & a final squeeze of lemon juice.
- While it’s still warm, you can also grate a small amount of Parmesan cheese or Pecorino Romano.
If you give this recipe a try be sure to tag @lifeatthemesa on Instagram so we can see how it turned out for you! Thank you so much for taking the time to check out my blog & be sure to sign up with your email to be notified of my latest posts.