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Top Chef Finalist Antonia Lofaso's Creative Lunch Recipes

Growing up in a traditional Italian American household "surrounded by food and family," Antonia Lofaso knew she wanted to be a chef. "But it seemed to be the type of dream career few people actually succeed at, like becoming an actor or an artist," says the Top Chef season 4 finalist. Her latest kitchen feat, The Busy Mom's Cookbook: 100 Quick, Delicious Home-Cooked Meals, debuted in August. Daughter Xea, 12, inspired an entire chapter of easy-but-creative lunch ideas, including this satisfying option.
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Antonia Lofaso's Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Basil Pesto

Antonia says: "This is one of my daughter Xea's favorite dishes. When we eat out at Italian restaurants, she likes to order gnocchi with pesto, but gnocchi's a little labor intensive to bust out for school lunches, so we make this instead."

Ingredients

1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon pine nuts (optional; see note below)
4 servings warm whole wheat pasta (cooked according to package directions)

Directions

Add basil, Parmesan, oil, salt, pepper and pine nuts to blender pitcher. Blend for 2 minutes.

In a large bowl, toss pesto and pasta together until they are well combined. Although this pasta tastes good at room temperature, I like to pack it in a thermos so it's still warm at lunchtime.

Note: It's fine to leave out the pine nuts if this lunch is going to a nut-free school environment.

Q&A

Family Circle: How hard was it to be away from your daughter while Top Chef was filming?

Antonia: Incredibly tough, even though she was with her dad. But letting go was my only chance to succeed on the show. I didn't want Xea to ever think that a few weeks apart would make or break our relationship. Instead, I wanted her to see her mom as focused and ambitious and great at what I do. In the end I let that motivate me to make it to the finals.

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