You might have to suspend disbelief on this one, though you're probably already in that habit given that I am the woman who extolled the virtues of cole slaw pizza.
Most of the ingredients I've been working with in the Woodside kitchen this week are trusty little blank canvases, or at the very least happy little pushover foods—chicken, cheese, even lettuce and tomatoes—content to be seasoned up into countless culinary disguises.
The black bean, corn, and onion mixture I whipped up for Monday's Cobb salad, however, is something of a wild card. I knew I had whole wheat penne in the larder for last night, and there was something about the chicken and the tomatoes that was just crying out for pesto, but black beans are ... well, not cannellini beans.
So really, this one came together with the help of stubbornness (I don't care; I still want pesto), cockeyed optimism (meh, what's the worst that can happen?), and something less akin to recklessness (the black beans can provide starchy thickness to the sauce while the onions give it a little zip; I can balance out the sweetness of the corn with red pepper flakes).
It's a strangely arbitrary opinion of mine that pesto is simply better with whole wheat pasta. Unlike most freshly delicate flavors, I think it's less in danger of being overwhelmed and more in need of backup. I would never DREAM of maligning beautiful white pastas; I use them all the time and credit them for most of my (ahem) softness, but they need backup, too. Some zingy tomato sauce or bright balsamic. Pair it with pesto and it's just ... wimpy.
Frankly, though, this isn't really a pesto at all. It's just "inspired" by pesto—there isn't any cheese or nuts in it, and I chiffonaded the basil and stirred it in at the end, as opposed to whirring it up in my mini-processor. But the results were really delicious and crazy satisfying, plus a little addicting; after a mishap with the "browning" function of my microwave, I was left waiting for the cheese to melt on my ciabatta garlic cheesy bread. Whereupon maybe I ate half the pasta straight from the skillet.
The bread was a no-brainer, using half a ciabatta roll from the night before and the Monterey Jack from the day before that. A sprinkle of granulated garlic and ground red pepper, and you're off to melty happiness land. (You CAN also stir a little mayo into that mixture, but you CAN'T tell my mother I told you that.)
Penne with Black Bean "Pesto"
2 ounces whole wheat penne
¼ (15-ounce) can low-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
¼ cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
¼ cup red onion, diced
Pinch of ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Salt, to taste
½ boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut diagonally into thin slices
¼ pint grape tomatoes, halved
3 or 4 large fresh basil leaves, chopped
Dried crushed red pepper, to taste
1. Cook penne according to package directions; drain, and set aside.
2. Combine beans and next 4 ingredients in a small food processor or blender. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and process until combined. (Add a small amount of water if your mixture seems too thick.) Stir in salt. Set aside.
3. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet over medium heat; sauté chicken until golden brown. Reduce heat to medium-low; stir in tomatoes, pasta, and black bean mixture, and cook until heated through and well combined. Stir in basil and red pepper; serve with cheesy garlic bread, if desired. Makes 1 serving.