When you think of pesto do you think of basil? Most of us do. Traditional Pesto Genovese, the ubiquitous garlicky basil puree tossed with pasta is an Italian staple. I have to admit, though, that basil is not my favorite herb. When I use it, I do it sparingly so it’s pungent flavor doesn’t overwhelm. So, when I do make a pesto I like to substitute some or all of the basil with other herbs and greens – and you should too, even if you love basil. Herb pestos are a great way to use copious greens, and a wonderful way to spread their flavor in pastas, dolloped over pizzas or smeared on crostini. They are also great as a garnish or sauce for grilled meats, chicken, and fish. Try substituting parsley, cilantro, mint – or a mixture of all of them. Greens such as arugula and baby spinach also work well. I made this pesto with fresh baby spinach leaves and added a little lemon and mint to brighten the mix.
Spinach Pesto with Almonds, Mint and Lemon
Makes about 1 1/2 cups pesto.
4 ounces baby spinach
1 large garlic clove
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup almonds
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Place the spinach, garlic, mint, cheese, almonds and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. With the motor running, add the oil in a steady stream to blend. If too thick add a little more oil to desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl. Season with salt and black pepper.
To serve with pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add 1 pound pasta, such as fusilli, and cook until al dente. Drain. Toss with several heaping spoonfuls of pesto to coat. Serve with additional grated cheese. Serves 4.