Avocado Pesto Pasta + Polenta & Pecan Crusted Warm Mozzarella

We went all healthy with the pesto pasta...

..and then went all unhealthy with the fried cheese.

Okay so I never do this, but I used store bought pesto.
       My mom just got back in town and didn't feel like cooking, so I told her I would. All she wanted was pesto pasta, and all we had was the remains of an almost empty store bought jar of pesto. No herbs, no greens, no parmesan, nothing.

Me being myself, I had to spice it up a little bit, so I mixed in a little avocado "sauce" I made the other day. I mean who doesn't like avocado? Besides my dad of course...

My favorite thing about avocado is how versatile it is. You can do practically ANYTHING with it.
       I've used it as a replacement for butter/oil/eggs in baking, as a creamy base for sauces, and of course you can never go wrong with a big pile of it on toast. Literally. My avocado toast is pretty much a whole avocado mashed onto an itty bitty piece of very, very lightly toasted bread (my favorite is an english muffin), with A LOT of salt and fresh black pepper. I have it at least 3 times a week... I guess you could consider me a little obsessed.
       Another of my favorite uses for avocado is just cut a perfectly ripe one in half, fill it with any red berries, and drizzle with honey and flakey sea salt. Seriously, so darn good.

Okay, enough talking about this amazing fruit.

To me, what makes a pasta dish delicious, is the actual pasta. You can have the best sauce ever, but if the noodles are mushy and gross it totally ruins it.
Next to the AMAZING pasta we buy when in New Orleans at Central Grocery, my family's favorite store bought dry pasta brand is Pastifico Di Martino. I don't think it's even possible to overcook. It's always the perfect texture every time I cook it.

This pasta is so, so simple. That's probably because of the homemade pesto thing, but even if I did use homemade pesto, it would still be incredibly simple to whip up.
I'll  sneak in my basic pesto recipe mixed with the avocado down below too, just in case you're lucky enough to have more than a head of cauliflower and mini bell peppers as your vegetable supply.

 The fun part of this dish is the mozzarella. My intention was to make a lightly crusted warmed mozzarella ball, but it turned out more as a mozzarella stick... in ball form... Hey, I'm not complaining though.

Pesto Pasta + Crusted Mozzarella Balls
Serves 4

1/2 lb. spaghettini pasta (or more; 8-12 oz)
1 cup packed fresh spinach
1/2 overripe avocado
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1/4 cup cold Pecorino Romano cheese- grated 
1/2 cup cold pinenuts
1 cup packed fresh basil
5-6 sage leaves- about 2 tbs. packed
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2/3 cup stone-ground yellow corn polenta 
1/3 cup finely crushed walnuts 
1 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
8+ oz. fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup+ canola oil
1 egg- whisked 
Fresh parmesan
Fresh black pepper
Crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

Start by making the pesto. Combine all 3-11 ingredients in a food processor and mix until smooth. Add more oil if too thick and season to taste with salt/pepper.
Bring a pot of salted water with a drizzle of oil to a boil. Add pasta and cook until aldente & strain. Toss with 1-2 tablespoons pasta water, avocado pesto, and spinach over low heat until spinach is wilted.
Heat 1/2 cup canola oil a medium frying pan over high heat. Mix ingredients 12-17 together in a shallow dish. Cut 2 oz. of mozzarella and roll into a ball (it won't be completely together until coated in crust). Lightly roll in polenta crust, dip in egg wash, and roll in crust again to make completely dry. 

Right before serving, fry crusted mozzarella for 20-30 seconds on each side (pan should sizzle). Repeat for as many mozzarella balls as you would like. Immediately serve over pasta and eat. Top with fresh grated parmesan, crushed red pepper, and fresh ground black pepper.

                                                                                                                           -Cecilia A.


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