Food packs a powerful punch when it comes to memories. We share our daily lives over meals. We celebrate with meals. We mourn over meals. We come together over meals.
Today’s recipe has a lot of history for my family. When my son, Ben, was just three we started a tradition called guy’s night. It was a time when we either cooked dinner together or went out—just the two of us. Now mind you, this was long before I started my real food journey, and one of our favorite places to go was Noodles & Company. We both loved their Pesto Cavatappi, or as we called it then, Green Mac n’ Cheese.
Fast forward a year or two and my son’s mother and I decided to divorce. It was one of the hardest periods of my life. And that first night my son came to our new home, I tried to think of someway to make the evening seem more normal. So we sat down on the floor of my practically empty apartment and ate Pesto Cavatappi together.
To this day that dinner is a powerful memory for both of us, and it has created a special spot in our hearts for Pesto Cavatappi. So when we started eating more real food over 5 years ago, one of the many questions my son asked was, “Can we still have Pesto Cavatappi?” and I replied “of course.”
Now I’m guessing Noodles & Company probably isn’t the worst or best of restaurants when it comes to clean eating. Although they now post the nutrition information for their menu, ingredients still aren’t shared (I’ve asked several times and received a “no” or “no response” each time. If that changes I’ll post an update below). Regardless, what should you do when a special dish may be not be in sync with your values? Here’s how we decided to handle it.
First off, we don’t have many unbreakable rules in our home. As I described in my Deliciously Imperfect post I realized over time that I live in a very imperfect world, and the challenges of raising a teenager sometimes mean eating food that’s not in 100% in sync with my values. But that doesn’t mean I just threw in the towel. Instead, I got my son interested in making our own pesto and Pesto Cavatappi from scratch.
So this is our whole-wheat, 100% real version of Noodle & Company’s classic Pesto Cavatappi. And while we may not make it from scratch all of the time, cooking homemade Pesto Cavatappi together is now an additional part of our memories.
As Ben heads off to college this week, I thought there couldn’t be a more special family recipe of ours to share. Life is full of changes—beginnings, endings, and everything in between. May this recipe bring as much joy, togetherness, and history to your home as it has to ours. Here’s to you, Ben!
- 1 pound cavatappi pasta or other pasta of choice
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil (add 2 if you're adding onions and mushrooms)
- 1 large tomato, cored and diced or 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
- ½ cup dry white wine (or ½ cup pasta water)*
- ¼ cup heavy whipping cream or half & half
- 1 cup homemade or purchased pesto
- 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
- 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
- 1 medium onion, diced finely
- 2 cooked chicken breasts, sliced
- In a large saucepan bring 4 quarts of water and salt to boil. Add pasta to the boiling water. Cook pasta for about 10-12 minutes or until al dente. Reserve ½ cup pasta water if desired. Drain well.
- Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. If using onions or mushrooms, cook them for 3-4 minutes, then add tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes.
- Stir in wine (or pasta water), cream, and almost bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook sauce until it has thickened slightly, about 2-3 minutes.
- Stir in pesto and heat sauce thoroughly.
- Toss pasta and pesto together. If adding chicken, place cooked slices on top of the pasta. Serve immediately and garnish with parmesan cheese.
Wine definitely adds a lot of flavor but sometimes I don't feel like opening a bottle of wine just to make this dish. So if you're using pasta water instead of wine and want to add extra flavor, add some sherry to taste (about 1-2 tablespoons).
Tips and Resources:
- While you can make this pasta dish with any type of whole wheat noodles, cavatappi holds a special place in our hearts so I try to keep some on hand. I usually purchase Bionaturae Organic 100% Whole Wheat Cavatappi from my local co-op, but you can also find Bella Terra brand available online here and here.
- A great, multipurpose colander is a must for every kitchen, especially when you’re making pasta! I bought this OXO Good Grips colander as a replacement for a really old plastic one that I had bought at a dollar store in the 90’s. Who knows what kind of weird plastics and hormone-disrupting chemicals were in that old one. Yikes! Maybe it’s time you invest in a new colander as well.
- I love my Microplane zester/grater. It makes it so easy to add some finely grated parmesan cheese over any dish. And it’s also perfect for grating ginger or zesting lemons, limes, and oranges!