From the AICR Test Kitchen
Week of May 19, 2014
Download 300 dpi photo
Contact: Alice Bender, (202) 328-7744

Watercress Pesto Linguini

from the
American Institute for Cancer Research

Pesto pairs perfectly with pasta, especially pesto made with watercress. Easy to prepare, pesto is rooted in Genoa, Italy, in the scenic province of Liguria. Dating back to the 16th century, pesto is one of the oldest oil-based sauces in Italy. It evolved because Ligurian sailors, wanting a change from fish and spicy foods, started to prefer the herbs and vegetables from the local countryside.

Traditionally pesto is made with olive oil, garlic, basil and pine nuts using a mortar and pestle to release the oils from basil and to give the mixture a smoother consistency. The word pesto itself originates from the word pestare – to pound or bruise. This recipe, though, substitutes the unique taste of watercress for basil. This cruciferous vegetable, which is not as strong as basil, has a wonderful peppery, tangy and slightly bitter flavor.

Adding toasted almonds creates both a satisfying and uniquely tasty blend, and boosts exceptional nutritional value as well. Watercress is rich in vitamins A, C and K, and also contains the cancer-preventive phytonutrient sulforaphane. The lemon juice provides just the right tartness and some more antioxidant vitamin C. Parmesan cheese finishes the pesto with its sharp, slightly nutty taste.

Make a complete meal by adding a tossed salad of cucumber, thin slices of red onion, tomato wedges and diced avocado dressed with a simple vinaigrette. Presto! Dinner is served.

Watercress Pesto

Watercress Pesto Linguini

  • 1 lb. whole-wheat linguine
  • 10 oz. watercress (4 cups coarsely chopped), tough stems removed; 8 small sprigs for garnish
  • 4 cloves garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 4 Tbsp. Parmesan cheese, grated, divided
  • 1/4 cup toasted sliced almonds
  • 2 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


In large pot, cook linguine al dente per package instructions. When pasta is cooked, reserve 1/2 cup cooking water and set aside. Drain pasta in colander and return pasta to pot to keep warm.

In blender or food processer, blend watercress and garlic until finely chopped, about 20 seconds. Add cheese, nuts, oil and juice and blend into smooth purée, about 40 seconds. Salt and pepper to taste.

Pour pesto over linguine. Use reserved water to loosen remaining pesto from blender or processor and add to pasta. Gently stir pesto and pasta together and top with remaining 2 tablespoons cheese. Garnish with small sprigs of watercress.

Makes 8 servings.

Per serving: 271 calories, 10 g total fat, (1.5 g saturated fat), 40 g carbohydrate,
10 g protein, 7 g dietary fiber, 57 mg sodium.

Our Mission: The American Institute for Cancer Research champions the latest and most authoritative scientific research from around the world on cancer prevention and survival through diet, weight and physical activity, so that we can help people make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their cancer risk.

We have contributed over $105 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. Find evidence-based tools and information for lowering cancer risk, including AICR’s Recommendations for Cancer Prevention, at

All active news articles