Spinach Pesto

Spinach Pesto
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pesto and fresh pasta
Pesto and pasta make for a fast and easy meal.

As we get closer to the day we pick up food from the CSA, it gets a bit harder to figure out what we’ll be having for dinner, as the amount of fresh produce dwindles (we rarely buy produce from the grocery store). We were puzzling over this last Sunday, looking in our fridge and cupboard, thinking about what we’ve had lately (we like to avoid having the same staples too often in a row), and then looking back in the fridge. There wasn’t much, and it was tempting just to do something like order up a pizza. Then, all we’d have to do is select the topping and we’d have a mediocre pizza in 45-60 minutes. Well, from the title of the post, you can tell we didn’t order pizza; instead, we scratched out a quick batch of pesto.

When you’re desperate for something quick and easy, don’t forget about making pesto. It doesn’t have to be made from basil, or have pine nuts, or garlic, olive oil, or even Parmesan cheese. Over the years, we’ve changed each and every ingredient from the traditional standard of basil pesto, and each and every time we made a good pesto. The important thing to remember is that pesto basically means ‘pounded,’ and comes from the same root word as pestle, as in mortar and pestle, the traditional tools used to combine the ingredients. Everything else, including ingredients, is mutable.

Spinach Pesto

Yield: about 1 cup

Spinach Pesto


  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and de-germed
  • Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 2-3 cups spinach leaves, washed and dried
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or Grana Padano)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Abbreviated Instructions

Place garlic, nutmeg, spinach, cheese, and pine nuts in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to chop and combine. Once chopped, run processor and add olive oil.

Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Process to combine.

Transfer to an appropriate container and refrigerate.


Ingredient discussion:

The real keys to making good pesto is to use good olive oil and good cheese. Both are going to add a bunch of flavor, so you want those two things to taste good. The pine nuts are very traditional, but we find that walnuts work nearly as well. The nutmeg is not even close to a usual pesto ingredient, but it goes well with spinach, so why not add a bit?

Procedure in detail:

de-germ garlic
We think that removing the germ from the cloves of garlic removes some of the harshness without a loss of flavor. It’s a small thing we think is worth it.

De-germ garlic. We remove the germ (the little sprout in the middle of the clove) from garlic for just about everything. It has a slightly stronger, and harsher, taste than the rest of the garlic, so out it goes (it really ends up in our “stock tank,” which holds various vegetable scraps that we use for making stock once a week).

Toast nuts. Regardless of the type of nut you’re using, toast them. We just place them in a small skillet over medium heat for 5 minutes (for pine nuts; a few minutes longer for other nuts) and they taste so much more nutty.

making pesto
We didn’t even bother to chop the spinach before adding it to the food processor. It’ll get chopped in there.

Process. Place the garlic, nutmeg, spinach, pine nuts, and Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to get everything chopped. If you put the spinach leaves in whole, you might have to move them around (while the processor is off, obviously) to feed them into the blades.

adding olive oil
Once chopped, drizzle in the oil. We just estimate the amount and adjust if needed.

Add oil. With the processor running, drizzle in oil through the feed chute, and let process until you have a smooth paste.

adding seasonings
Taste and season. Without these two steps, there would be no need for chefs.

Season. Taste the pesto; now’s your chance to add salt and pepper, more cheese, more oil, or whatever else you think it needs. Pulse to mix, and taste to confirm that your pesto is the best ever.

fresh pesto
That’s it, about a cup of pesto in a few minutes. With some freshly-made pasta, better than delivered pizza (in the same amount of time, too).

Pack. Place in an appropriate container until ready to use.

We thought this pesto would be bland since it used spinach instead of basil. We were wrong. It’s a very good pesto, both on pasta, as we show above, or spread on a piece of bread (think bruschetta here). And, since the hardest part of making pesto, especially if you use a food processor, is the clean-up afterward, this is an automatic (well, nearly automatic) five stars.

Worth the trouble?

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