As I’ve already told you, we are big fans of pasta in our house. And while it doesn’t take much to make it exciting in my view (straight from the fridge with nothing on it is just fine!), I do like to vary the ways I eat it. So far I’ve shared with you my mom’s pasta salad and my spaghetti with turkey meatballs, but yet another preparation I love is pesto. I find the smell of basil heavenly, love toasted pine nuts, and really, what isn’t good with olive oil and romano cheese?
But while a traditional pesto is certainly delicious, I was inspired this weekend to try a different spin to add a little nutritional boost. We went up to visit my husband’s sister and her family, and she had some leftover ravioli-type pasta which was stuffed with a spinach-parmesan cheese mixture. And guess what – my little munchkin who doesn’t like vegetables ate spinach when it was mixed with cheese and pasta! I thought about how I could recreate this at home. Homemade stuffed pasta is a little beyond my energy level at this point, but in the back of my mind I remembered seeing recipes for pesto made with spinach instead of basil and had my answer! And as an added benefit, most of the spinach pesto recipes I found included walnuts instead of pine nuts – walnuts have higher levels than any other nut of those famous omega-3 fats we’re all trying to eat more of. Perfect!
I found a recipe published in The Washington Post that used frozen spinach, which made the preparation even easier, and bought some organic whole wheat spiral pasta that would hold plenty of pesto. I also decided to throw in the rest of the sun-dried tomatoes that were still hanging out from the last time I made pasta salad, and cook up some free-range chicken in my freezer for some added protein. Remember my lemon oregano chicken, which I told you was totally versatile? Well in this case I used dried basil instead of oregano, and only used half a lemon because that’s what I had left over from the pesto, and it was great – enough flavor to be tasty, but not so much that it competed with the pesto.
In the end, hubby and I thoroughly enjoyed this meal for dinner last night AND lunch today, and the munchkin liked the pasta, too! She didn’t inhale it quite like her normal pasta with olive oil (she doesn’t like tomato sauce yet…so sad…), but she certainly ate enough to call it dinner – a succcess in my book!
Spinach Walnut Pesto
adapted from The Washington Post
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, defrosted
2 teaspoons dried basil*
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (approx. 1/2 lemon)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/3 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Drain the spinach by wrapping it in a clean kitchen towel and twisting over the sink. Place it in the bowl of a food processor with all other ingredients except the oil. Pulse until finely chopped.
With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil to form a smooth, thick paste. Toss with hot pasta and add a little of the starchy cooking water from the pasta if necessary to loosen the pesto. Add whatever else you are including in the dish and serve.
You can also cover and refrigerate if making it ahead. Note that unlike basil, spinach does not turn brown as it oxidizes, so this pesto keeps it’s bright green color much longer!
Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups, and I used about 75% of that for 1 lb of pasta.
*The original recipe called for 1/2 cup of fresh basil leaves and 1 teaspoon dried, but I hate buying fresh basil, using a small amount, and throwing away the rest, as has happened way too many times. So until I figure out how to keep a plant alive and grow my own basil, I try to only buy it when I’ll be able to use the whole package. That being said, I’m sure this would taste delicious the original way!
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**For those who have this problem, buy a bunch of fresh basil, use it to make pesto, then freeze the pesto in an ice cube tray, and transfer the cubes to a freezer bag or storage container when frozen solid.Then you can pop out a cube or two, defrost, and have homemade pesto whenever you need it.(You can also do this with cilantro, parsley, or other herbs.)