My two boys love mac and cheese like any red-blooded American boy. Years ago when I first made basil cream sauce and slathered it over cavatappi pasta my then five year old named it Alien Mac and Cheese. I guess they have watched too much Star Trek and Voltron. During the summer when we have a huge crop of basil, Alien Mac and Cheese is the staple of movie night. We sit with large pasta bowls in our lap and sprinkle red pepper flakes all over till it's just right. My basil pesto cream sauce is so easy, it is made almost exclusively in the food processor and is one of the cheapest meals imaginable if you have homegrown tomatoes and basil at your disposal. Our boys are purists, preferring no tomatoes to dampen the basil cheesy goodness.
As summer wanes so does my crop of basil so I'm beginning to mourn one of my favorite ingredients. Here is how I make this amazing and easy weeknight or any night meal that everyone from the kids to the boss will enjoy.
1 cup fresh Basil, washed and rough chopped
1/2 cup Parmesan Cheese, fresh grated
3 tbs toasted Pine Nuts
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Dash of Red Pepper Flake
Salt and Pepper to Taste
1 tbs butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 lbs Cavatappi Pasta or any pasta of your choice
Preheat oven to 350 in preparation for toasting the pine nuts.
Spare yourself the time of grating the cheese and simply place a few small blocks of parmesan freed from the rind into your food processor fitted with the blade attachment. I discovered this quick time saver one night when I was too tired to grate.
Pour the cheese into a small bowl.
Then toast the pine nuts in a 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes until fragrant.
Don't burn um! I let mine cool a bit on the sheet pan before I put them into the pesto. Basil's delicate flavor does not like heat
Wash, dry and rough chop about 1 cup of packed basil leaves. Into the food processor these go. Give them a whirl and a few pulses.
Then put your cheese back in with the basil, pine nuts, salt, a few cranks of pepper and red pepper flake and pulse a few more times.
Now it's time for the fun. In a steady stream through the feed tube drizzle the oil into the basil and cheese mixture. Voila, you have pesto! Pat yourself on the back, you have perfected an essential kitchen skill. You could stop here but why when you can add cream and butter?
Here is a big secret! Dice one to two very ripe tomatoes on a board and sprinkle liberally with sea salt and pepper. Let those macerate away in the salt and drain a bit on the board until you are ready to serve. In the summer we always have my father's fresh tomatoes. They are like tomato candy.
On the stove top cook the pasta according to the package. I generally use cavatappi pasta. Here is some food trivia for you. Cavatappi means corkscrew in Italian. It is considered a type of macaroni.
Also, on the stove top in a small sauce pan heat the butter and cream until hot and bubbly. Then carefully pour in a stream to incorporate the hot cream mixture into the pesto through the feed tube of the food processor and give it a few swirls to mix the ingredients.
Drain the pasta and place in large pasta bowl. Spoon two or three tablespoons of the pesto cream over the pasta and garnish with two or three tablespoons of the diced tomatoes. You can also shave a bit more parmesan on top. I serve with a small bowl of red pepper flake so everyone can adjust the heat to their liking.
Now, turn on a movie and enjoy something better than pizza night!