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."
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)
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.