Every few months or so, my fabulous friend Alison throws a Stitch and Bitch. For those of you that aren't in the know, a Stitch and Bitch is a gathering of women that involves food, drink, handiwork, and lively conversation. My grandmother attends a Stitch and Bitch. My mother attends a Stitch and Bitch. And now I, too, attend a Stitch and Bitch. I love Alison's Stitch and Bitch get togethers. We all eat, talk, and sometimes even get around to working on our projects. Last time, which was just before Christmas, I was an embroidery fanatic and managed to complete an entire design on a dish towel in one evening. It was a pattern of a devil head, for my devilishly handsome and equally fabulous friend Derek.
Anyway, one of the best things about Stitch and Bitch is eating. Alison always provides some food, and guests always bring more. Unfortunately for me, most of the food at Stitch and Bitch, like most party fare, is primarily wheat or dairy based. Lots of crackers, crusty breads, fancy cheeses, tasty dips and tapenades, or little baked confections. Basically, lots of things on my naughty list. So, it is up to me to bring something I can eat that will also please the other ladies. Last time I brought some crazy Black Bean Carob brownies, a vegan variation of the recipe from 101 Cookbooks. They were pretty good, and went over fairly well, all things considered. Sure, the baguette and brie definitely stole people's hearts before my black bean brownies did, but by the end of the evening, a fair portion of those brownies had vanished off the plate. People liked them.
Or at least, people were curious enough about trying to figure out if they liked them or not to keep eating them.
This time around, I decided I wanted something more substantial. Something that would make a meal. I wanted a pasta salad. A pasta salad that was doused in pesto.
I totally adore pesto, but since most pre-made pesto includes ingredients that are no longer on my "yes" list, I now have to make it myself every time I want it. Thankfully, it is marvelously easy and takes about 5 minutes. So, I stopped at my favorite Asian market and bought a huge bunch of basil to make my sauce. Hot tip - basil is ALWAYS cheap at the Asian market. Way cheaper than buying it your average grocer or natural food store. And generally fresher, becuase basil is very commonly used in SE Asian cooking, and the turnover rate is pretty high.
Since I'm on a break from most nuts and seeds right now, running a little allergy experiment, I decided to make the pesto with sprouted chickpeas instead of pinenuts. Brilliant! I've had a batch of chickpeas sprouting away on my kitchen counter the last few days, and this was the perfect opportunity to use 'em up. Since sprouted chickpeas are still crunchy, they make a great substitute for the pine nuts and grated cheese traditionally used in pesto, providing that grainy texture. If you don't sprout, go ahead and try using regular chickpeas, but be forewarned - it may create a more creamy pesto sauce since cooked chickpeas blend up to be very smooth. Or, if you'd like, use pine nuts, or some other nut or seed. Pumpkin seeds make great pesto, as do macadamia nuts. After my sophomore year of college, I worked in Hawaii for a summer, and basically lived on vegan cheese, macadamia nut pesto, and sprouted grain bagel sandwiches. Macadamias + basil = awesome. In fact, I think vegan cheese is really only acceptable to eat when covered in pesto.
Or, for the most simple variation, just make your pesto with basil and olive oil - it is just as delicious. This recipe makes more than enough pesto for the pasta salad, so you'll have plenty of leftovers. Use over cooked veggies or grains, mix with beans, serve on turkey burgers or chicken breasts, or stir in with yogurt or kefir to make a tasty, creamy dressing. Or, just eat with a spoon and get your olive oil intake for the day. Pesto freezes like a dream - I use ice cube trays and those little bendy oven/freezer/fridge safe plastic candy molds to freeze just about everything - so make a big batch and freeze some for later!
In the end, this pasta salad was a total hit at Stitch and Bitch, and got just as much actions as the creamy spinach dip, crusty bread, and ham and cheese galettes. Brimming with Mediterranean-inspired flavors, this pasta salad combines caramelized onions, blanched broccoli, sprouted chickpeas, oil-cured olives, and fresh pesto into something wonderfully vibrant green, ultra flavorful, and very satisfying. People will never guess it is gluten-free and vegan! And it makes a ton - perfect for potlucks, parties, and leftovers.
I did not include cheese when I made the pesto or salad, but I listed it below as an option for those that tolerate dairy. A freshly grated, hard, salty Italian cheese, like parmiggiano reggiano (cow) or pecorino romano (sheep) would be delicious, and add a traditional twist.
SPROUTED CHICKPEA PESTO AND BROCCOLI PASTA SALAD (vegan, dairy free, gluten free)
yield: 8-10 servings
4 c dry brown rice rotini (or other gluten free pasta), cooked and cooled
3-4 c finely chopped broccoli florets (about 1 bunch)
1 1/2 c sprouted chickpeas (or canned, prepared chickpeas)
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1/3 c oil cured black olives, sliced
1/2-2/3 c pesto, to taste (see ingredients and recipe below)
sea salt and fresh cracked pepper, to taste
1 T olive oil
optional, if dairy tolerant: grated parmigianno reggiano (cow) or pecorino romano (sheep)
Sprouted Chickpea Pesto:
2 c packed fresh basil leaves
3/4 - 1 c good quality extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic or 1 bulb roasted garlic
1/4 c sprouted chickpeas or 2-3 T pine nuts or other nut/seed
optional, if dairy tolerant: 2-3 T parmiggiano reggiano (cow) or pecorino romano (sheep)
pinch sea salt
PREPARE PESTO (yields approx 1 - 1 1/2 c):
- Remove leaves from basil, wash, and spin dry/pat dry.
- Put basil leaves, garlic (fresh, roasted, or mix), and sprouted chickpeas/nuts in food processor.
- Add oil slowly while pulsing food processor until sauce has reached desired consistency. It shoudl be grainy and well mixed.
- Add pinch of sea salt to taste, as desired.
- Store in refrigerator for up to one week, or freeze leftovers for later use.
- In large stockpot, add water, pinch of salt, and 1 T of olive oil to boil. Add dry pasta, bring to a boil, then cover and reduce to a simmer. Cook 8-10 minutes or until pasta is al dente. DO NOT OVER COOK! Remove from heat immediately, pour pasta through strainer, and rinse with cool water. Set aside, and let it drain thoroughly while cooling.
- Thinly slice onion, and place in oiled heavy bottom pan that has a tightly fitting cover. Saute at medium heat until coated with oil, then reduce heat to low, cover and let sweat for 4-5 minutes. Remove cover, stir, cover, and let cook another 5-6 minutes. Remove cover, stir, cover and let cook another few minutes. Repeat until onions have become sweet, sticky, and carmelized. Turn off heat, and leave covered for a few minutes. Remove cover, and set aside.
- While onions are caramelizing, boil 4-5 cups of water. Wash broccoli, and remove florets from stems. Chop broccoli finely - you want to make it look like lots of very tiny little trees. Place in a large bowl, then dump boiling water over the florets. Cover bowl with a plate, and let sit for about 1-2 minutes, or until broccoli is just lightly cooked. Remove plate, and strain broccoli. This is a fast and easy way to quickly cook very small broccoli pieces!
- Slice olives in quarters vertically, and set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix together cooled pasta, broccoli, caramelized onion, olives, and chickpeas. Spoon pesto sauce over mixture, and gently mix into pasta until well combined. Add salt, pepper, and additional pesto sauce to taste, as desired.
- Cover salad, place in refrigerator, and let sit for 3-4 hours to let flavors develop.
- Serve chilled or at room temperature. Garnish with freshly grated cheese, as desired/tolerated.
Buon appetito! Per favore, mangia, mangia!