Spinach Pesto with Fusilli

pesto pasta tastefood

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.

pesto spinach jar

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.


Farro Pilaf

Farro Pilaf

When I was young one of my favorite side dishes was rice pilaf. It came in a slim box with a portion of rice and a sachet of spices, dehydrated chicken stock – and goodness knows what else – all set to prepare with water on the stovetop. The results were addictive and exotically flavored. My brothers and I would fight over who got to finish the bowl on the dinner table; one box was never enough.

These days I make pilaf from scratch – and you probably do, too, without realizing it. The principle behind pilaf is that rice, or another grain such as bulgur, is sautéed then steamed in a flavorful broth, along with a few aromatics such as onion, garlic and spices. When it’s ready to serve, the rice is fluffed to separate the grains, and fresh herbs may be added for flavor and adornment. So before you reach for a box of pilaf in the supermarket with a long list of ingredients, remember that it’s really quite easy – and much cheaper – to make your own from scratch.

Farro Pilaf

This recipe replaces rice with farro, and includes toasted almonds, lemon, mint and parsley. It makes a hefty pilaf, which is nutty, fresh and packed with protein and nutrients. Depending on how salty your stock is, adjust the amount of salt to taste. Serves 6 as a side dish.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 large shallot, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cups farro
2 1/4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds (or pinenuts)
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add shallot and garlic and sauté until shallot begins to soften, 2 minutes. Add farro and stir to coat the grains. Carefully add the stock (it will bubbly vigorously), salt, pepper and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until the farro is tender but chewy and liquid is absorbed, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat and fluff with a fork.  Transfer farro to a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil, almonds and lemon zest and stir to combine. Cool slightly. Before serving mix in parsley and mint. Serve warm or at room temperature.

If you like this, you might enjoy these recipes from TasteFood:
Chicken and Farro Soup with Shiitake Mushrooms
Quinoa Tabbouleh
Fregola Sarda with Asparagus and Lemon