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Break Pesto From Its Italian Confines With Spicy Thai Basil Noodles

Basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow at home, thriving even in small containers on apartment fire escapes. If you subsequently find yourself with a bumper crop of your own—or you just went on an herb shopping spree at the farmer's market—then you've made your fair share of pesto pasta and pesto pizza. What else can you do with pesto? Don't just think Italian.

Leslie Lennox's new book, Pesto: The Modern Mother Sauce, offered me plenty of outside-the-box inspiration for this summer sauce. One of the most intriguing is this one for Spicy Thai-Inspired Noodles. The pesto component uses up not just basil but optionally other herbs you might have in your garden or fridge, and it's a refreshing change of pace from all the green-flecked Italian dishes I've been cooking. Thai pesto, I'm into you.

Spicy Thai-Inspired Noodles

Reprinted with permission from Pesto: The Modern Mother Sauce by Leslie Lennox, Agate Surrey, 2019

Makes 4 servings

In this recipe, East meets West. Instead of using traditional rice noodles (which of course you can), I substituted Italian pasta and the results were excellent. For this dish, I encourage you to be creative and use a Thai-inspired pesto for a colorful and light yet satisfying meal.

  • 4 oz. long, thin pasta, such as capellini (or rice noodles)
  • 1 cup shredded or spiralized carrots
  • 1 cup shredded or spiralized daikon radishes
  • 1 tsp. peanut oil
  • 1 cup 1/2-inch tofu cubes
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • 2/3 cup sugar snap peas, blanched
  • 1/2 small jalapeno, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves
  • 1 cup Thai-Inspired Pesto Vinaigrette (recipe below)
  • 2 scallions, white parts only, thinly sliced, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup whole or crushed peanuts, for garnish
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta or noodles and cook according to package instructions. Drain the pasta, transfer it to a large bowl, and add the carrot noodles and daikon radish noodles (if using).

    Warm the oil in a wok or nonstick skillet over high heat, swirling the oil so that it coats the wok. You will know the wok is ready when you flick a drop of water into the oil and it sizzles. Add the tofu and stir-fry until it is golden in spots, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Be careful not to let it burn.

    Transfer the tofu mixture to the pasta bowl. Add the red onion, sugar snap peas, jalapeño, and cilantro. Pour in the vinaigrette a little at a time to find the perfect balance, tossing to combine. Garnish with the scallions and peanuts and serve right away, or let rest in the bowl at room temperature for about 30 minutes to let the flavors develop and deepen.


    Thai-Inspired Pesto Vinaigrette

    Makes about 1 1/2 cupsThis simple vinaigrette is a wonderful addition to the Spicy Thai-Inspired Noodle recipe. You may find yourself also pouring it over a bowl of jasmine rice or a quick vegetable stir-fry.

    • 1 cup Thai-inspired pesto (think cilantro, Thai basil, peanuts, cashews)
    • 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
    • 2 1/2 Tbsp. lime juice
    • 2 tsp. toasted sesame oil
    • Combine all the ingredients in a lidded jar. Shake well. Serve immediately or store in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.