Tuesday, March 8, 2011

One recipe two ways--Green Bean Pesto Penne (and Mushroom Barley)

This is one of our favorite recipes.  It can be done quickly on a Tuesday night squeezed between work, swim practice, church meetings, baths, homework and bedtime routine.  Or it can be made a little nicer to serve guests for a weekend meal.  Serve with browned/grilled Italian sausages or grilled chicken strips if you need meat.  Sprinkle with parmesan if you must.  But it really is filling and flavorful without the extras.

The best version is with fresh green beans and fresh herbs, a good quality olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground peppercorns.  But it is really good with canned green beans and dried herbs for the Tuesday version.  I sometimes add a bunch of fresh spinach or arugula to the pesto.  Mix and match greens and nuts to get the flavor you like best.  My favorites are basil with almonds or arugula with pine nuts.  You could even use kale. Also, a splash of white wine or fresh squeezed lemon helps to bring out the freshness of the herbs.  Just use a little less oil of you use these.  Kids can help, too.  They love to make the pesto in the food chopper.

To toast your nuts (insert immature comment here), start with raw nuts and heat them in a dry pan over medium heat until they just start to brown.  They will burn quickly, so never leave your toasty nuts unattended!

The menu last night was Green Bean Pesto Penne with Fresh Fruit and Mini Sweet Peppers. (These baby peppers are pretty popular with the kids.  Grill or quickly sautee or just serve cold for a nice crisp touch to dinner.)

1/2 box Multi-grain or whole-wheat penne pasta, cooked according to directions
2 cans green beans or 1 lb fresh steamed green beans  (basically, pasta to bean ratio is 1:1)

Using a food processor or chopper, make the pesto.  Add everything except oil.  Mix well, and then drizzle in the oil a little at a time until it is a spreadable paste consistency. 

Fresh herbs:
3-5 garlic cloves
2 bunches fresh basil leaves
1 bunch fresh parsley sprigs 
1/2  c. almonds, walnuts or pine nuts (toasted)
1/2-3/4 c. olive oil
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Peppercorns

Dried herbs:
2 garlic cloves or 1/2 T. minced garlic (from a jar)
2 T. dried basil
1 T dried parsley
1/2 c. almonds, walnuts or pine nuts (toasted)
1/4-1/2 c. olive oil
Salt and Pepper

I usually cook the beans and pasta together in the same salted water.  When pasta reaches al dente, toss it with the pesto. Sprinkle with more toasted nuts if you want.

And--just because I love you--I'll give you this bonus recipe today.  This one was based loosely on another barley recipe I found at All Recipes (www.allrecipes.com). I really like this web site because you can put in a couple ingredients, search vegetarian recipes, key words, etc. and it spits out recipes that might work for you.  I tend to take the top three suggestions from the website and mix and match to make my own recipe.  Anyway, this was a good, hearty and comforting one bowl supper for us.  It was mild, not intended to be a mouthful of flavor.  Just comfort food.  The menu was Mushroom Barley, Crusty Bread and a Salad.


1 teaspoon olive oil
3 cups sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup uncooked barley
2 cups vegetable broth
1 cup cooking wine (or your favorite white wine)
1 (15.5 ounce) can white beans, drained
1 package fresh baby spinach
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, and stir in mushrooms, onion, celery, and garlic. Saute until tender. Mix barley and vegetable broth into the saucepan. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat. Simmer until barley is tender (time varies depending on what you use for barley--follow the time frame on the packaging). Stir white beans into the barley mixture. Continue cooking about 5 minutes, until beans are heated.  Add in spinach and cook just until wilted but still bright green.  Stir, re-season as needed.  Serve hot.



  1. Yummm. I've never thought to put green beans with pasta before. I'm going to have to try this one!

  2. I like the green beans with the penne because it's basically the same shape/size and works well to "veg it up" a little bit. You feel like you're eating a big platter of pasta, but it's really only half a platter! : )

  3. My thoughts exactly! In the picture it looks like it is all pasta. I'm drooling already.

  4. I don't believe in "hidden veggies" in meals. I tell my kids what they are eating and they know it is a healthy choice. But this one works for some of the pickier eaters in child care. The green pesto hides the beans a bit and they just eat it without thinking it's veggies. This one doesn't go over as well with red sauce cuz it's too easy to see the beans.