Easy, Healthy, Tasty, Inexpensive: Spinach pesto
Updated: Jul 23, 2020
A famously favorite pasta sauce, pesto is really just an emulsion of expensive ingredients- and it tastes really good. But paying seven dollars for a small jar of a mass-produced, watered-down version of the real deal, or paying over twenty dollars just to assemble all of the ingredients is not ideal. The alternative: a delicious and healthy spinach pesto.
Made from a base of spinach and walnuts, and customizable to any degree, this simple pesto is the perfect sauce for a pasta, spread for a pizza, topping to a bagel, flavoring to a soup, or really anything else.
I got the idea to make spinach pesto when I opened my fridge and saw that I had a bag of spinach slowly wilting away. I immediately began plotting different ways to save the lives of the salvageable leafy greens. However, as I began sorting the leaves to find the unwilted ones, I realized I could save all of them by making pesto. A wilted spinach leaf is the perfect thing to use for pesto.
As an added benefit, blending spinach is one of the healthiest ways to eat it, as spinach produces more lutein when blended. Lutein is common in many greens and benefits the eyes by blocking blue light from reaching the retina of the eye. Tasty and healthy!
Now for the food: I began by filling half of my blender jar with spinach leaves. Again, there is no need to exclude the squashed up and wilted leaves; even they taste great.
On top of the leaves, I poured in some walnuts. Walnuts taste just as great as the classic pine nuts but are far less expensive and have a much lower fat content.
Next, I added some parmesan cheese, to add to the slight gritty texture and to get a richer, creamier flavor. While Parmesan is the standard cheese used in pesto, any extra sharp or aged cheese could work as well. Depending on the flavor profile intended, you could use aged manchego cheese for a creamier flavor, romano cheese for a sharper and stronger flavor, or even extra sharp cheddar to keep it simple.
The next ingredient is olive oil. I prefer a thicker and creamier pesto so I only used about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, but for someone who prefers a smoother and thinner sauce, anywhere from 3-5 tablespoons works. If you’re looking to reduce the amount of oil, you could even substitute half the amount for water, for a fresher and lighter pesto.
The game changer: lemon juice. Since this pesto is based on spinach rather than basil, one of the main things it lacks is the herbiness and freshness of basil. However, an easy way to gain that back is through lemon juice. I added lemon juice, as well as a little bit of lemon rind for an extra kick. The result is a pesto that tastes just as pungent as a basil pesto, but at half the cost.
Finally I added some salt, cayenne, black pepper, and garlic powder for some extra flavor and blended it all up.
The end product was perfectly thick and creamy, fresh and pungent, salty and spicy; far tastier than any of the overpriced store-bought pestos I’ve had and much healthier as well. Less oil, less cheese, no artificial ingredients- but all the more flavor.
I used it for everything, including pastas, avocado toasts, flatbread pizzas, falafel wraps, and more pastas. So so good:)
And the beauty of this recipe: you can do absolutely anything with it. Simple changes like adding some smokiness, spiciness, or even sweetness could go a long way. Or you could also change it up completely by basing the sauce on roasted squash for a summer squash sauce. Anything works, and it all turns out delicious, I promise:)
4-5 oz spinach
3-5 tablespoons of walnuts depending on desired texture of sauce
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2-5 tablespoons of olive oil depending on desired thickness of sauce
Juice of ¾ of a large Meyer Lemon
1 teaspoon lemon rind
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon cayenne
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ tablespoon garlic powder (I love my garlic)
Add ingredients to a blender jar and blend until everything is completely incorporated.
Remember, you can add more nuts, oil, or spices to change up the taste and texture of your pesto if you want to!