April is coming to an end and we are now entering the season of transition from spring to summer. It is time to start embracing the brightness of fresh herbs and vegetables, and today I have two great recipes to help you get started: Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto and Pasta Salad.

I love everything about pesto. This simple, chunky sauce can be enjoyed in myriad ways — spread atop crostini, tossed with pasta, mixed into tacos and salads, eaten by the spoonful… you get the idea. A traditional Genoese pesto is made with fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese, salt and extra-virgin olive oil, but by altering the herbs and nuts, you can create a whole repertoire of differently flavored pestos with ease.

Sarah's springtime pesto features six main ingredients: fresh cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, walnuts, lime juice and extra-virgin olive oil. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah's springtime pesto features six main ingredients: fresh cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, walnuts, lime juice and extra-virgin olive oil. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

For this occasion, I swapped out the basil for fresh cilantro and jalapeno and opted for walnuts as their neutral flavor will enhance the other ingredients without overpowering them. So that the bright, fresh flavor of the green ingredients can really shine, I skipped the cheese altogether and added a punch of acid with fresh lime juice.

Making pesto is an easy process as everything can be quickly mixed together by using a food processor or blender. You could also make this in the traditional way, using a mortar and pestle if desired, but I much prefer the ease and speed of modern technology.

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A food processor or blender is the ideal tool for making pesto, as the ingredients can be quickly chopped and blended together. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
A food processor or blender is the ideal tool for making pesto, as the ingredients can be quickly chopped and blended together. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

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For this recipe, I use one bunch of fresh cilantro and remove the long, thick part of the stems so that it is mostly just the leaves being used (this yields about 3 packed cups of cilantro). I love spicy foods, but my family does not, so to appease their timid palates I use just half of one large jalapeno and remove the seeds and veins inside. However, If I were making this pesto just for me, I would use the entire jalapeno and even some of the seeds.

To make the pesto, blitz the cilantro, jalapeno, garlic, walnuts and lime juice together by pulsing in a food processor or blender until a thick paste is formed. Next, turn the processor or blender on and add a quarter-cup of extra-virgin olive oil in a slow, steady stream until fully incorporated. Because the oil is an important flavor component in pesto, it is important to use a good quality, extra-virgin olive oil.

Once the oil has been added, blend in a small amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, then taste and adjust the seasoning and flavors as desired.

Spread the Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto atop a toasted crostini for a light and simple spring or summer appetizer. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Spread the Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto atop a toasted crostini for a light and simple spring or summer appetizer. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

This recipe yields about 1 heaping cup of pesto, which I have served as a dip with hearty chips, as an appetizer atop crostini, and in the pasta salad recipe I am also including here today. With graduations, vaccinations and celebrations upon us, we are entering the season for big-batch salads, and this bright and flavorful pasta salad will easily serve 10 to 12 guests. The recipe can be doubled or tripled and made one or two days in advance of serving.

This Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto is fresh, versatile, easy to make and filled with the bright color and flavors of the season. Enjoy!

Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto

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Makes: about 1 heaping cup

Ingredients:

1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed (about 3 packed cups)

1 large clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped

¼ cup walnuts (pistachios, almonds or pine nuts also work)

½ to 1 jalapeno, seeded and roughly chopped (start with half and add more as desired)

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 lime)

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

In a food processor or blender, add cilantro, garlic, pistachios, jalapeno and lime juice. Pulse until a thick paste is formed.

Turn processor on and run continuously as you add olive oil through feed tube in a slow, steady stream. Once all the oil is added, continue to process for an additional 30 seconds.

Taste and add more salt, pepper, lime juice and jalapeno as desired. Refrigerate in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days.

Bow tie noodles are perfect for Sarah's pasta salad recipe, as the pesto can easily cling to all the nooks and crannies to ensure that every bite is filled with flavor. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Bow tie noodles are perfect for Sarah's pasta salad recipe, as the pesto can easily cling to all the nooks and crannies to ensure that every bite is filled with flavor. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

Cilantro Jalapeno Pesto Pasta Salad

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Serves: 10 to 12

Ingredients:

1 pound farfalle (bow tie) pasta, cooked to al dente and rinsed with cold water until no longer hot

3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil, divided

¾ to 1 cup Cilantro Pesto

¾ cup black beans, drained and rinsed

¾ cup sweet corn

1 orange bell pepper, small diced

1 to 2 tablespoons lime juice

1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced into thin rounds or halved

½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

Salt and pepper, to taste

Thinly sliced or finely chopped jalapeno, to garnish

Directions:

Toss cooked pasta with 1 tablespoon of canola oil, adding more as needed until evenly coated. Add 3/4 cup of the pesto and stir until fully incorporated.

Add black beans, sweet corn and bell pepper. Use a rubber spatula or large spoon to mix vegetables with pasta. Add more pesto at this stage, if desired (I use 1 cup).

Drizzle 1 tablespoon of lime juice over salad, then add sliced tomatoes and feta cheese; toss to combine. Taste and add more lime juice, salt and pepper as needed.

For best results, refrigerate salad for at least 1 hour before serving, or even overnight; the salad may be prepared up to 2 days in advance of serving. Toss with 1 to 2 tablespoons canola oil and garnish with thinly sliced or finely chopped jalapeno before serving.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.