Fresh mint is abundant in the summer time. Grab a bunch for this satisfying, herby mint pesto pasta dish with salty pancetta.
When my children, Will and Paige, were little, weekend mornings in the summer were easy. They went where I did without complaint so Saturday mornings were often a jaunt to the farmers market and the community garden. We’d buy food for the week, talking to the farmers who became so familiar, and then tend to our own garden. I loved those days, even when they felt hard.
But as they’ve reached teenage years, things changed.
It was partially a scheduling change — Will had running practice nearly every summer Saturday for the last four years, for instance. But they also changed as people. Paige discovered sleeping in. Getting them to come with me to weave through tents and contemplate cabbages and herbs became a harder sell. And they didn’t have to. The older they got, the more agency I gave them to decide what they wanted to do.
But I still love when they come with me. And as we stare down Will’s last summer before college (he just graduated from high school!), I want to soak up as much time with them as I can. And that includes some more jaunts to the farmers market.
Pro-tip: Teens are more inclined to come when you bribe them with crepes from the food truck at the market.
And that’s exactly what happened on a recent rare Saturday where everyone was home, free and awake in the morning. And the crepes were great. But what really excited me was the fresh veggies.
The thing you should know about Maine farmers markets — particularly in our central part of the state — is that produce comes later than you’d expect. At this point in the season, we’re seeing spring onions, lots of greens, radishes and occasional berries. If we’re lucky, peas will make an appearance next week. But it will be weeks before zucchini, squash, beets and other summertime produce show up. And tomatoes? Two months.
Our winters are long and our summers are short, so we have to make the most of what we can find when we can find it.
And that brings me to mint. One of the things I really wanted from the market was herbs. It’s a bit early for basil here, but other herbs like cilantro, dill and parsley are often available in the early summertime. So when I found big bunches of mint at one stand, I bought one.
Mint is a tremendously overlooked herb. We associate it with ice cream, chocolate-mint concoctions, toothpaste, breathmints, cocktails and iced tea, but it also is lovely in savory preparations. In fact, using mint in more savory dishes is a total revelation — it’s fresh and bright, but also mellower.
Don’t discount mint. It’s worth considering in your summer cooking.
Combined with walnuts, cheese, garlic, oil and other ingredients in this mint pesto pasta recipe, mint provides a whole new take on a classic sauce. Though it retains that refreshing characteristic, the flavor is totally different when paired with savory ingredients.
Of course, this recipe isn’t just for mint pesto — it’s a whole pasta dish that combines salty pancetta (buy it pre-diced!), sweet shallots and pasta that will grip the sauce. It’s a full package of flavor and intent, and it’s perfect for early summer.
Best of all, this mint pesto pasta dish can be on your table in about 30 minutes.
I love a good, quick, easy, flavorful dinner.
Even if you aren’t a farmers market goer (why not?!?), you can enjoy this. Grab a big bunch of mint at the grocery store and give it a whirl. Either way, you won’t be disappointed.
- 1 cup fresh mint leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup chopped walnuts
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
- 1 lb pasta — choose a shape that will grip the sauce like campanella, rigatoni or gemelli
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 8 oz diced pancetta
- 1 shallot, small diced
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine all the pesto ingredients. Whirl until uniformly chopped. Set aside.
- Heat a pot of water to boiling set over medium-high heat on the stove. Cook the pasta according to package directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet set over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy and browned, about 5-6 minutes. Remove the pancetta to a small bowl, leaving the oil and fat in the skillet.
- Add the shallots to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and beginning to brown, about 3-4 minutes. Remove to the bowl with the pancetta, including the fat.
- Drain the pasta. Return to the pot and add the shallots, pancetta and pesto. Toss well to combine. Serve immediately.
- Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to five days.