A vibrant spinach and walnut pesto recipe that’s full of basil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. This classic Italian pasta dish makes a perfect weeknight meal!
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Pesto is one of those things that seems fancier than it is. Somehow Italian food has gotten the rap of being something that you only go out and get on your anniversary with a couple glasses of wine and some tiramisu . But I assure you – it’s totally doable as a weeknight meal and it’s going to taste better than what you paid too much for on your anniversary dinner. If pasta didn’t exist, I would probably be a different person. A very hungry person. To be honest, I probably eat pasta about two times a week. Why does pasta fill so many of my meal slots? 1) It’s cheap. 2) It’s versatile. 3) It’s delicious. One of the best things you can do for your pasta is to add pesto. A lot of pesto recipes call for only basil and use pine nuts. This one is a little different. I find that replacing some of that basil with spinach and swapping pine nuts for walnuts gives you a nice flavor profile and and it still feels like a classic pesto.
The first thing you want to do is toast your nuts. This will release some of the oils in the nuts and make the flavor more robust. A walnut is great, but a toasted walnut is really great. When you toast a walnut, you’re helping it be all it can be. I have a dedicated ‘nut pan’ in my kitchen. It’s a small cast iron skillet and the only thing I use it for is toasting nuts. Add 1/2 cup of walnuts to the pan and toast them on medium low heat for 5-10 minutes. How do you know when nuts are toasted? There’s no hard and fast rule, but when they start to smell (fragrant nut smell, not burned nut smell) and get a slight roasty color, I’d call it good. I will say this – make sure you stir the nuts around every few minutes or so. They will burn. I have burned more nuts than I care to admit.
After you toast the walnuts, throw half of the spinach, basil, toasted nuts, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, salt, and pepper into a food processor and pulse until combined. Then add the second half of the ingredients and repeat. This pesto uses less olive oil than classic pesto and as a result has almost a ‘drier’ texture.
Bring a separate pot of water to a boil and cook a package of your favorite noodles and according to the package instructions. Drain and set aside (reserve some of the pasta water).
This is where the magic happens. Heat about 1 Tbsp. of olive oil in a pan (not your nut pan). After it is heated, add the pesto mixture and stir. At this point, you’ll want to add some vegetable stock to ‘thin’ the pesto out and create the velvety sauce you’re looking for. With this recipe, I add about 3/4 cup of stock. If you want a ‘thicker’ sauce, add less stock. For a ‘thinner’ sauce, add more stock. When you get the pesto sauce to the consistency you want, drain the noodles and add them to the sauce. Add some of that reserved pasta water to the pan as well because it helps the pesto sauce stick to the noodles.
Voila. Place your pesto-coated noodles into a bowl and top it with some Parmesan cheese and any leftover walnuts you might have. Jazz it up with some sauteed mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese. Other delicious toppings include roasted red peppers, sliced chicken breasts, or chili flakes. It’s your call – it’s all about the pesto with this recipe and all the toppings are just an added bonus.
A vibrant spinach and walnut pesto recipe that's full of basil, garlic, and Parmesan cheese. This classic Italian pasta dish makes a perfect weeknight meal!
Cook the spaghetti noodles according to the package instructions. Reserve some of the pasta water.
- Place the walnuts into a pan and and toast them on medium low heat for 5-10 minutes, stirring every few minutes to prevent burning.
- Add half of the pesto ingredients to the food processor. Pulse until combined. Then, add the remaining half of the pesto ingredients to the processor. Pulse again until all of the ingredients are combined and desired consistency is reached.
Heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil in a pan on medium high heat. Transfer the pesto from the food processor to the heated pan. Heat for a minute or so and then add the stock to thin the pesto sauce out. Start with 1/2 cup and work up to desired consistency. Add desired amount of pasta and a small amount of the pasta water. The pesto sauce should evenly coat the noodles.