Did you know April is National Pecan Month?

Yeah…neither did I. I don’t usually keep track of these things. But I’m happy to know about it, because pecans are arguably one of my very favorite nuts. I prefer them to walnuts in baked goods (okay, I prefer them to walnuts in MOST things), I love glazing them and spicing them for holiday celebrations, and I adore throwing them into homemade granolas or using them to make a delicious nutty crust on fish or chicken.

Given my adoration of pecans, and the fact that I had just bought a bunch of them to use for my carrot cupcakes, I was only too happy to take the opportunity to highlight them in a new recipe. I like a good challenge, so I figured maybe I’d step outside my comfort zone and do something other than the sweets that immediately came to mind.

The thing is, pecans are healthy. Sure, I love them best when they’re paired with sugar or maple syrup, fruits, and sweet spices like cinnamon, but they can easily go savory as well. Like many nuts, they’re full of protein and fiber, and the oils in pecans are the kind that are good for your heart – at least, that’s what the current prevailing wisdom says. And since I’m always happy to find more protein-rich ways to eat vegetarian meals without having to fall back on tofu or a constant parade of beans, I decided to try using pecans as the starting point for a filling and creative meatless meal.

This Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower and Pecan-Carrot Pesto is a fabulous dish for any time of year. It uses the tops of the carrots, an item you might not necessarily think to cook with, but one that brings an earthy flavor and lovely green color to the pesto. Combined with the pecans and the cauliflower, you could make this dish to herald the first shoots of spring or to mourn the last gasp of autumn. Either way, it’s a striking combination of flavors that hits all the notes from salty to savory, with added crunch from more pecans sprinkled on top and deep nuttiness from the cauliflower to match up with the nuts in the pesto and the garnish. Don’t skimp on the capers or skip the raisins – they both bring a much-needed element to this pasta dish, and you want all the flavors to mingle for the best balance.

Get the recipe: Orecchiette with Roasted Cauliflower and Pecan-Carrot Pesto