NOODLES: Linguine with lemon balm pesto and zucchine

Lemon balm. Mint. Oregano! “AGH,” the gardener cries.

These herbs, although delicious, tend to take over gardens, and come back every spring no matter how much you try to weed them out. There are only so many mojitos you can mix, logs of herbed butter you can roll (yeah, I just linked you to a Martha Stewart page), and branches of oregano you can dry for pizza to keep them tame!

But boy, oh BOY do I have the answer.

This recipe not only uses up bundles and bundles of herbs, it also has a beautiful name in Italian. I think I’ve got it right: “linguine con zucchine e melissa”. Yeah. “Melissa”, for all you Melissas out there, is the Italian word for lemon balm. Still not convinced?

lemon balm and oregano

A bundle of oregano (top) and lemon balm (bottom) from my university’s communal garden!

This pesto also happens to be dairy-free. Think you’ll miss the creaminess? It’ll come from unroasted walnuts, as opposed to break-the-bank-expensive pine nuts that are called for in traditional pesto recipes.

So get yourself a mortar and pestle (they’re in my top 5 of MUST HAVE kitchen tools), and you’ll start this by bashing the hell out of your herbs (I’m using lemon balm for this recipe, but it would work for anything, really). Then you’ll bash in garlic, salt, black peppercorns, and walnuts (I bet you could use almonds [maybe soak ’em first], cashews, peanuts, and of course, pine nuts). Bash bash bash bash bash. Then you’ll swirl in some olive oil to loosen it up. Hey, pesto!

Folks, it’s so simple. Beautiful. Flavorful. So fresh, so bright, so satisfying. Here we go!

You’ll need:

For the pesto:
– a bunch (as much as will fit into your pestle and mortar; let’s say 2 cups for this recipe) of fresh herbs. Anything from lemon balm, mint, oregano, and parsley will work. You can also mix in more woody herbs, such as thyme and rosemary, WITH the leafy ones since you need greenery for a base)
– 1 tsp whole black peppercorns (I mean, ground pepper works too, but unground is always best)
– 2 tsp salt
– 2 cloves garlic
– Small handful walnuts (somewhere around 3 heaped tbsps)

For the rest:
– one zucchini, cut into long, thin strips
– enough linguine (or other long pasta) for a couple people
– 3-4 anchovies, roughly chopped (optional)
– a lemon

1. Get a pot of salted water boiling, and drop in your pasta.
2. Get crackin’ on your pesto: roughly chop up your herbs (discard tough stems), and start bashing them in your mortar until they turn into a paste. Then bish bash bosh in the rest of the pesto ingredients, making sure everything comes together smoothly. It’s really hard to over-bash pesto.
3. Scrape everything out into a bowl – or just do this in your mortar if you have the space – and add enough oil to loosen up the pesto. I find that about a 2-1 ratio of paste-oil works really well. For the amounts I’ve listed above, I’d recommend adding about a 1/3rd cup.
4. Pesto’s done, pasta’s close: in a pan, fry your zucchini strips in your fat of choice (I used a combo of butter and olive oil) until they get some golden-brown coloration. Season with salt and pepper, and a small spoonful of sugar for contrast.
5. Pasta’s really close: Add anchovies – and ooh, chili flakes could be good – at this point, stirring quickly. When fragrant, dump your pesto in and fry briefly (your garlic will start to smell heavenly). Using tongs, grab your pasta and add to the pan. Stir and add about a 1/3rd cup of pasta water to bind everything together.
6. Once your pasta water’s evaporated and everything’s cooked to your satisfaction, plate up! Sprinkle with freshly chopped herbs! Add a squeeze of lemon (it really brightens everything up – don’t skip)! Try not to NOM too hard!

*I bet Thai basil and tender lemongrass would also work for a Thai flair!!
**Add more oil and some chopped up olives or preserved lemon to turn your pesto into a fantastic bread dip!
***Seriously, get a mortar and pestle. You can use simple tool for so much: making pastes for curries, making rubs for steaks and roasts, and grinding toasted rice for my Thai pork salad recipe!

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