A classic combination of basil pesto pasta with roasted cherry tomatoes and bocconcini will bring the finest experience of Italian dining at the comfort of your home!
After quite a long gap I am bringing a pasta recipe for you all, hence it has to be something special; plus, it should be something which would delight everyone on board. This basil pesto pasta fits the bill perfectly as it has all the specialty quotient needed to become worth of your time & effort. The best thing about my basil pesto pasta is the homemade basil pesto which is so close to my heart that I could never imagine to use store-bought basil pesto in any of my recipes. Making basil pesto at home is so ridiculously easy that there could not be any legit excuse for not making it. Plus, basil pesto is one of the most freezer friendly condiments which will keep well for good 6 months. What more could you ask for! Even though pines nuts are traditionally used in basil pesto, but it is very easily replaceable. If you happen to live in a place (just like me!) where pine nuts are not easily available or are exorbitantly priced, you can very well substitute it with cashew nuts or almonds. In case of almonds, just peel them before using.
There are 2 more elements in this basil pesto pasta which make it explicitly special, one of them being roasted cherry tomato. I used grape tomatoes as that was more easily available than cherry tomatoes in my city but both types of tomatoes work well. I used a griddle pan to roast them which is a quick & easy method. You can roast them in a preheated oven too with a drizzle of olive oil until they are charred on the edges. While I am thinking of it, I feel that a dash of sun-dried tomatoes would have also added some extra oomph to this basil pesto pasta. I didn’t have sun-dried tomatoes handy when I was making this pesto pasta; but if you happen to have one, do try it and let me know how it turned out. I am almost sure that it would pair really well with the fresh flavor of basil pesto and the melty goodness of bocconcini cheese.
Now comes the second special element of my basil pesto pasta and that is nothing but cute little bocconcini. If you are not familiar with this fresh variety of mozzarella cheese, then let me give you a quick byte! Bocconcini, meaning “little bites” in Italian, are egg sized Mozzarella cheeses that originated in Naples. This is a type of fresh mozzarella cheese which is usually sold packed in water. While using bocconcini, you need to pick it up from the water and discard the water that comes with it. This fresh mozzarella not only looks cute but also has a fresh & soft texture which enhances the lusciousness of my basil pesto pasta and using these bocconcini is one of the motivating factors behind making this pasta dish at the very first place. I had a vague imagination of how my final pesto pasta would look and I was immensely happy for being able to produce what I was looking for! The green pasta with specs of red tomatoes and topped with melting white cheese – the whole sentence sounds so yummy in itself that you can imagine how delicious it looked & tasted in reality! Well, the pictures would give you some fair idea!
If you are already inspired and planning to make this basil pesto pasta to enjoy Italian dining at home, kudos to you! If you are pro in pasta making, you must already be knowing that whatever pasta you are using, you should not be cooking it completely while boiling in salted water. It should remain somewhat firm to bite. If you are just starting to cook pasta, then let me tell you why this ‘al-dente’ thing is important. When you boil the pasta in water, it is the first phase of cooking. Pasta will again be cooked to complete the full recipe; you will either sauté it with sauce like basil pesto in this case or bake it in oven with other ingredients. If the pasta is already hundred percent cooked in the beginning, it will turn mushy during the second phase cooking and once you have the final dish, trust me, it won’t taste good at all as all the flavors will be lost in the gloopy mess. Just be a little careful while boiling pasta and you should be sorted for rest of the recipe. This recipe of basil pesto pasta of mine is very customizable, you can use any pasta shape of your choice – short or even long pastas. If you want to add additional protein to it, you may throw in some grilled chicken cut into bite-size cubes during last 5 minutes of cooking in the skillet. If you ask me, I loved this meatless version so dearly that lack of meat didn’t even knock on my head while savoring this delicious basil pesto pasta!
- Penne pasta – 250 gms
- Cherry/grape tomato – 200 gms
- Bocconcini – 6 to 8 or more as per taste
- Olive oil – 5 tbsp
- Garlic – 6 to 8 cloves, minced
- Basil pesto – 1 cup
- Parmesan cheese – ½ cup, grated
- Gruyere cheese – ¼ cup, grated
- Italian seasoning – 2 tsp
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Boil the penne pasta in heavily salted boiling water until al-dente as per packet instructions. Reserve about a cup of pasta boiling water, drain the pasta and set it aside.
- Make basil pesto with fresh basil leaves following the instructions here.
- Cut each cherry tomato into half lengthwise.
- Heat a griddle/frying pan and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the cherry tomatoes cut side down and cook without disturbing them for couple of minutes on medium flame. The cut side will turn a little charred.
- Stir and cook the tomatoes until they turn little soft but not completely mushy. This would take about 3 to 4 minutes on medium flame. Take them out on a plate and sprinkle some salt on top. Set them aside.
- Heat a large pan with high sides and add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Once the oil is warm, add the minced garlic and sauté on medium flame until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Now add the basil pesto and cook it for couple of minutes. Next add the boiled penne pasta and stir them to mix well with the pesto.
- While stirring the pasta, if it seems too dry, drizzle some of the reserved pasta water to loosen things up. But do not add too much water as it would make it watery.
- Add Italian seasoning, salt & pepper to taste. Mix well.
- Now add sautéed cherry tomatoes, bocconcini, grated gruyere cheese and half of the grated parmesan. Lightly stir them, then cover and simmer on low flame until the cheese is melted. This would take about 6 to 8 minutes.
- Uncover and give one final stir. The cheese should have melted by now and the excess water should have been absorbed.
- Transfer the pasta to a serving platter and sprinkle the remaining grated parmesan cheese on top. Scatter few fresh basil leaves and for added flavor, drizzle some more extra virgin olive oil on top. Serve your basil pesto pasta warm along with your favorite wine and enjoy!