I am ready for Spring to well, uh, spring! The official first day of Spring is next week, March 20th, and I am here to help you ring in the new season with something fresh, flavorful and actually quite healthy. Spinach Basil Pesto. Also, it’s the only green thing currently in my post queue and I thought you might enjoy something green to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on Monday. So there you have it. This recipe pulls double duty next week: a green food for St. Patrick’s Day dinner on Monday and a garden-fresh food for Spring on Thursday. You’re so very welcome.
Pesto is one of those things that can be whipped up in seconds if you have a food processor (you really should invest in a food processorif you plan to cook often), and it instantly brightens and flavors just about any dish. Scramble some into your morning eggs, spread it on a turkey sandwich for lunch, mix it into pasta for dinner. You can serve it as a spread for plain crostini, as a dip for fresh cut vegetables, or as a sauce for chicken, fish, pasta, and just about anything else that you fancy. The flavor comes mostly from the fresh basil and raw garlic, but it’s also helped along by some freshly squeezed lemon juice and toasted nuts. Traditional pesto calls for pine nuts, which I do love in pesto, or mixed with angel hair pasta and goat cheese, but they can be difficult to find and are expensive, so I started using toasted almonds. I buy raw almonds, then chop and toast them myself. This makes them taste more fresh and bring the cost down quite a bit.
Another thing I do with my pesto is use equal parts basil and spinach. Basil for that classic pesto flavor, and spinach to add some serious nutrition. As of the last six months or so, I always have a big box of spinach or kale in my fridge for my morning green smoothies. They don’t add any flavor of their own, so it’s like eating something really healthy that takes on whatever other flavor you’re craving. If you haven’t tried green smoothies yet, you should. Just yesterday, as I was making my breakfast smoothie, I was craving a mint chocolate shake due to the looming green holiday. I used my usual fresh spinach, yogurt, and banana, but then I added some chopped chocolate and mint extract. I had a healthier version of a milk shake for breakfast and it was delicious! I know, it sounds totally weird to drink spinach, and especially to mix it with chocolate and pretend it’s ice cream, but I promise, it worked! That’s a post for a different time. Spinach Basil Pesto tastes nothing like a shamrock shake, and I don’t think I would enjoy drinking it through a straw.
Anyway, I add spinach to my pesto to up the nutrition. Then when it comes time to drizzle in the oil, I do so very slowly, and stop when my pesto is spreadable, but still fairly thick and chunky. I like this texture far more than the oil-heavy pesto that is most common. Of course, if you prefer it silky smooth and oily, then by all means, continue drizzling until you reach your favorite pesto texture. My favorite way to serve pesto as of late is to mix it in with ricotta cheese and serve on rotini pasta with chicken. Whatever food you choose to add your fresh pesto to, I hope this one finds a permanent home in your recipe box!