Thursday, May 8, 2014

Spinach Pesto Pasta

It's time again for this month's Earth Fare recipe!  Like my other Earth Fare recipes, I chose a recipe that represents the spirit of my blog: family friendly, quick to prepare, inexpensive to make, and healthy and delicious to eat.  

Like many other parents, the battle to get my child to eat anything green is an epic one.  And to be perfectly honest, I probably don't eat enough of the green stuff either.  I attempted to get my daughter to try a bite of a salad the other day, and she took one look at the spinach, and stated "I don't eat leaves, Mommy".  (Whatever kid, you spent your first two years  of life eating leaves and sticks every time we went outside.)  After a particularly unflattering moment of jealousy after seeing yet another Facebook post of a mom announcing about how much her kid loves kale, I decided to get creative.  What if I made pesto, but it had a spinach base instead of basil?  A quick google search showed me that I wasn't the first to come up with this notion, which further encouraged me that this might be a great idea after all.  

I pulled out my trusty pesto recipe, typed it out, and replaced the bulk of the basil with spinach, and the pine nuts with walnuts.  Why the nut substitution?  Well, first of all, walnuts are crazy high in omega-3s, so it upped the nutritional profile of the pesto even more.  Secondly, walnuts are so much cheaper than pine nuts!  Plus, I almost always have a bag of walnuts sitting in my freezer, so convenience was a big selling point.  However, if you just adore your pine nut pesto, feel free to use 'em.  In fact, use whatever nuts you have sitting around.  I imagine almonds would be especially delicious. 

After I finished making the pesto, I let my daughter have a small taste off the serving spoon before I served it for dinner.  She made a face and pronounced it too spicy (anything with flavor is "too spicy" for this kid).  I panicked.  Fortunately, anxiety often produces creative solutions in this household.   I stirred in a small amount of sour cream into her pesto to make it creamy and to mellow the flavors just a bit.  As our family sat down for dinner, I carefully averted my eyes (and held my breath), and pretended like I didn't care if my daughter ate a bite or not.  After a minute of silence from her end of the table, I finally looked over at her, and was thrilled to see a noodle hanging out of her mouth and pesto all over her face.  She was devouring it.  "It's yummy Mom!"  Hallelujah!  

Oh, and I thought it was pretty darn good too. 

Spinach Pesto Pasta
Serves 5-6

12 oz Pasta of Choice (I like Fusilli or other Short Pasta)
4 Cups (~8 oz) packed Spinach Leaves
1/3 Cup unpacked Basil Leaves (optional but recommended)
3/4 Cup Walnuts, toasted
2 Garlic Cloves* 
1 Tbsp Fresh Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Freshly Grated Parmesan Cheese
1 tsp Kosher or Sea Salt, or to taste
1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil**
Optional: Grape Tomatoes, Sautéed Asparagus, Steamed Broccoli, Sautéed Mushrooms, etc.
Optional:  Sour Cream


1.  Following the directions on the pasta box, cook noodles until al dente.  Reserve about a cup of pasta water, then drain the noodles, and return the noodles to the cooled pot (off the heat).  Set both the noodles and the reserved pasta water to the side.

2.  Meanwhile, using a food processor, add in half the spinach called for, the basil, walnuts, and garlic.  Puree for 30 seconds, and then use a spatula to scrape down the sides.  

3.  Next add the rest of the spinach, the lemon juice, parmesan, and salt to the food processor and puree until everything is combined, scraping the sides as necessary.  With the food processor still running, slowly pour in the olive oil and puree until mixture is a smooth paste.  Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary (salt, pepper, lemon juice, etc.).

4.  Spoon the pesto over the noodles, along with a quarter of a cup of the reserved pasta water.  Return the pot back to the stove, and over low heat, cook until heated throughout.  Add more pasta water until you reach the consistency you want (I used about half a cup of water).  Finally, toss in veggies, if using, and then remove from heat when warmed throughout.

5.  Serve pesto pasta topped with freshly grated parmesan if desired.  If you prefer a milder pesto (and this is for children especially), stir in a dollop of sour cream into your serving.

Serving Size: 1/6th of Pesto and 2 oz Pasta Noodles
Calories:  401
Fat:  20
Carbs:  44
Protein: 11

*  If you prefer your garlic (and therefore pesto) to have a milder flavor, let me share with you a trick my friend Marina taught me: Heat a small skillet over high heat.  Toss in unpeeled garlic cloves (do not oil pan), and sauté for a few minutes, flip, and then sauté the other side. Remove from pan, allow to cool, and then peel.  Garlic should be soft and sweeter.  This step can be done while putting the other ingredients in the food processor.

* * If you aren't using the pesto to put on pasta (for instance, you want it on top of chicken, or to stuff mushrooms), and therefore won't have pasta water to thin the sauce, I recommend increasing the olive oil amount from a 1/4 of a cup to 1/2 a cup.

1 comment:

  1. Pesto is one of my favorite lunch or dinner options. I am adding it to my list this week!