"There is nothing worse than grilled vegetables," said Julia Child in an Esquire interview. Up until recently I would have wholeheartedly agreed with her, but not so much anymore. Grilling vegetables brings out their inherent earthy flavor, softens them, and lends them that characteristic char that the caveperson in us loves. So why not grill vegetables, especially when you feel like sticking it to the rainy weather by grilling indoors.
So far the month of April has lived up to its reputation as the month of showers. Even though that's prevented me from tending to my garden as much as I would have liked, I've still managed to grill as if it were summer. I've taken out my trusty grill pan and made good use of it. I've grilled many vegetables and have found that some are just horrendous grilled. But with some trial and error one eventually finds which vegetables are best grilled. And a new dish is created that complements those lovely blackened flavors.
For this recipe I take two of my favorite flavors of cashew nuts and sesame tahini to create a pesto sauce for pasta. It's sort of a fusion of South Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean flavors. Plus I use Japanese udon noodles, which I love for their wriggly quality. I then top the noodles with my favorite grilled vegetables: asparagus and bell peppers in different colors. It's all about creaminess, nuttiness, and earthiness all in one healthy package. The meal is great served just slightly warm, but it's just as good cold out of the fridge the next day for lunch.
Noodles with Cashew-Sesame Pesto and Grilled Vegetables
1 pound udon noodles or linguine
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
2/3 cup raw cashew nuts, toasted
1/4 cup tahini
1/2-inch piece ginger, coarsely chopped
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for grilling
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed of tough ends, sliced lengthwise
3 small bell peppers, red, orange, and yellow, cut into strips
black and white sesame seeds, for garnish
Bring a pot of liberally salted water to a boil. Add udon and cook until al dente, about 5 to 7 minutes. Drain and rinse udon under cold water. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with sesame oil. Alternatively, cook linguine according to package directions.
In the bowl of a food processor, combine cashews, tahini, ginger, garlic, and lemon juice. Pulse until paste-like consistency forms. Drizzle in olive oil while continuing to pulse. If mixture is too thick, add up to 1/4 cup water. Season pesto with salt and pepper.
Preheat a grill pan set over medium-high to high heat. In a large bowl, toss asparagus and bell peppers with a few drizzles of oil. Grill vegetables, in batches, until limp and charred, about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer back to bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Add cashew-sesame pesto to noodles and toss to coat. Add half the grilled vegetables and toss to combine. Serve noodles warm or cold topped with remaining grilled vegetables. Garnish with sesame seeds. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.