Sunday, August 14, 2011

Green Noodles and Pesto

A warm welcome to our guest, Judy Alter, whose first cozy mystery, SKELETON IN A DEAD SPACE, will debut on August 29th!

I didn’t grow up eating much pasta. I don’t think my father, with his British taste and sense of propriety, liked the messiness of spaghetti, and I’m not sure I ever saw him eat lasagna. When I had spaghetti as a child, it was because my folks were going out and my best friend and I were left to heat canned Spaghetti-Os, which we thought were manna from heaven. Oh, yes, we also heated canned spinach to go with it. There you have our two favorite foods. My taste has improved a bit since those days, and I love pasta, especially with a rich, red meat sauce. But there are so many other things to do with it.

    My former sister-in-law served something she called meatless spaghetti, claiming she invented it one night before she and my brother married when he was coming for dinner and she had no money for groceries. She used what she had on hand, melting butter in the skillet, adding cooked spaghetti and lots of lemon juice. I “improved” on the idea by using spinach noodles and adding scallions and mushrooms. Now I also add chopped artichoke hearts and a frozen “ice cube” of homemade pasta. I frequently served “green noodles” as my children were growing up. The dish was a household favorite.  It’s light enough for summer and is a nice one-dish meal.

Green noodles

1 16-oz. pkg. spinach egg noodles
1 stick butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced (I always buy whole and slice them myself—seems fresher)
4 scallions, chopped
1 can quartered artichoke hearts, chopped
1 ice-cube size piece of pesto, thawed (see note)
Juice of one lemon or to taste
Grated fresh Parmesan

Cook and drain noodles. Melt butter in the skillet. (My oldest daughter, Megan, weight-conscious in high school and to this day, used to insist that was too much butter, and it may be but it’s good.) Sauté the garlic. mushrooms and scallions in the butter. Add  lemon juice to taste—I like lots; the mushrooms soak up the lemon and are delicious. Add artichoke hearts and pesto. Add noodles and toss to coat. Make sure all is heated through, and then serve topped with Parmesan.

    My daughter-in-law, Melanie, does a slightly different version for her daughters, Maddie and Edie, both of whom at a very young age loved sour things like pickles and capers. Mel cooks angel hair pasta and butters it liberally; then she adds lemon juice and capers. I watched in amazement as she dumped capers in out of the jar, not bothering to drain them (as I always do, with some difficulty). “Oh, yes,” she said, “the juice adds a really good taste.” I tried it, and she’s right.

Note: I make a batch of pesto when I’m in danger of losing the basil crop to frost and pour it into an old-fashioned ice-cube tray. When frozen, pop the cubes out, put in a baggie and store in the freezer. One or two cubes defrost fairly quickly at room temperature.  You don’t want to microwave them.

My favorite pesto recipe is plain and simple:

2 c. basil, packed
½ c. Parmesan, shredded
½ c. olive oil
1/3 c. nuts—I don’t like pine nuts much and prefer to use pecan pieces
3 garlic cloves
Salt and pepper
Lime juice to taste—but don’t get it too runny.

Put it all in the food process and blend.
I have done this with cilantro, and it’s great.

An award-winning novelist, Judy Alter has written fiction for adults and young adults about women in the nineteenth-century American West. Now she has turned her attention to contemporary cozy mysteries, and the first, Skeleton in a Dead Space, will launch August 29 from Turquoise Morning Press. Judy blogs about cooking at Potluck with Judy,, and about writing and life in general at Judy’s Stew, You can write her at


  1. Would olive oil work instead of butter, or would it change the flavor too much?

  2. Passing along pesto idea to a friend, whose gardening skills, like mine, have ensured survival only of the herbs.

  3. Judy - It's lovely to see you here in our Kitchen! I enjoy both of your blogs, and I'm excited to hear about your new book. The pesto cube idea is something I've always wanted to try, and I appreciate the directions. The recipe looks perfect for summer plates, light and healthy (and, like your daughter, I'll probably reduce the butter, too :)). But "green noodles," hmmm....OK for fans of Dr. Seuss, but when I serve, I think I better adjust the name to Pesto Primavera a la Judy! Looking forward to getting my hands on SKELETON IN A DEAD SPACE...

    Have a lovely Sunday,
    ~ Cleo Coffeehouse
    Cleo Coyle on Twitter

  4. What an excellent meatless meal. I love the pesto cube idea (and also making it without pine nuts)

    Two 'keeper' ideas from one post. Thanks, Judy!

  5. What a wonderful recipe and I am so glad you mentioned the pesto in the ice trays. I have been wondering about that - sometimes it kills me to see the herbs go to waste :) I copied this lovely recipe and hope to serve it to my family. Have you tried it with spinach ?

  6. Thanks for all the comments. Briddie, I think a mixture of olive oil and butter would be good--would have the virtue of not burning and not spattering. Bet the taste would be good too. Denise, I haven't tried it with spinach, but it's the kind of meal you can add anything to. In fact, I think I left the garlic out of this version--and it's always a good addition. Mary Jane, I never have figured out why pine nuts are so trendy. I much prefer pecans. I've made pesto with cilantro and pecans too, which is really good. For the ice cube thing, I use old-fashioned plastic ice cube trays that you can twist and eject the cubes. Once the pesto hardens, pop them out and put them in a baggie. They keep a long time. Cleo, thanks--it's wonderful to know that one of my cooking author heroines reads my blogs.

  7. Judy, I had no idea about freezing basil! Great tip. Love the recipe.

  8. Judy, I pulled out the ice cube trays just the other day for this very purpose and I made pesto again last night. Our basil plants are thriving this year! Can't wait to try freezing the pesto.

    Thanks so much for joining us on Mystery Lover's Kitchen today!

    ~ Krista

  9. Green noodles! Sounds Seussian, but looks divine! I love mushrooms and artichoke and can't wait to try this...and to read your book, Judy. :)

  10. I was well past twenty-one when I first met pesto, and now it's a staple (I think my family was afraid of garlic).

    My mother was also a meat-pot-veg kind of cook, so eating pasta as a meal still surprises me, but in a happy way.

    Good to see you here!

  11. You're right, Elizabeth/Riley--I hadn't thought of it but it doees sound Seussian. A good thing. And Sheila I never ate pesto at home either--or artichoke hearts. I remember Mom and I cooked a box of frozen ones and they were awful--I still prefer canned but maybe we just didn't know what to do with them. My mom, in her best days, would have welcomed all these new tastes.
    Thanks to all at Mystery Lovers Kitchen for letting me drop in.

  12. Passing along your basil tip to friends, family, and others, including: