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Recipe: How to Make Spinach & Walnut Pesto

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It's so appropriate that March is National Nutrition Month with Spring just around the corner. We've added an extra hour to our days, the sun is staying out longer and the weather is getting warmer. The arrival of Spring also brings with it lighter fare and recipes with faster cooking techniques like grilling, sautéing and "no-cook" recipes like this Spinach and Walnut Pesto.

 

I think the word "nutritious" still makes many people skeptical, giving them the impression that it's limited to boring salads, bland steamed vegetables, and dry, flavorless chicken breasts. Not so! All it takes is knowing some basic cooking techniques and stocking your pantry with versatile ingredients so you are properly equipped to prepare meals that are nutritionally sound, flavorful and satisfying.

Knowing how to make pesto is an indispensable cooking technique that is not only very easy, it's also quick, so preparing a nutritious dinner is only minutes away. Spinach is widely available year-round, so this is a recipe that can be enjoyed any time of the year. Although pesto is Italian, this recipe would work perfectly for St. Patrick's Day.

Because this Spinach and Walnut pesto is a no-cook recipe, the nutrients in the spinach aren't diminished by the cooking process. Nutritional profile: The spinach contains vitamins A, and C as well as iron. Walnuts are rich in iron, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin E. Lemons are rich in vitamin C as well as B-complex vitamins. Olive oil is low in saturated fat and rich in vitamin E.

Pesto is a great recipe to make in large batches and this particular recipe is freezer-friendly. Pesto's versatility is not limited to the ingredients from which it can be made. Here is a list of some creative uses for this sauce:

Serving Ideas for Spinach Pesto 

  • Toss with hot pasta (short or long shapes) for a quick weeknight dinner.
  • Toss with cooled pasta for a cold pasta salad.
  • Use as a spread for sandwiches and wraps in place of mayonnaise.
  • Spread onto thinly-sliced pieces of baguette, top with a piece of fresh mozzarella and broil for a few seconds for easy, bite-sized appetizers.
  • Serve alongside grilled seafood such as shrimp or halibut.
  • Use in place of tomato sauce on pizza.
  • Dollop on top of poached eggs in place of Hollandaise sauce for a healthier and lighter version of Eggs Benedict (or serve with eggs made any style).
  • Spread onto a thawed sheet of store-bought puff pastry, sprinkle with Parmigiano cheese, roll jelly-roll style, cut into "pinwheels" and bake until golden and puffed for a hot appetizer.
  • Toss with boiled potatoes for a lighter version of potato salad.

Spinach and Walnut Pesto Recipe

Adapted from Everyday Italian by Giada de Laurentiis
Special equipment: Food processor 

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup walnut halves or pieces
  • 8 cups (2  0.5-oz. packages) baby spinach, washed and dried thoroughly
  • 2 tsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

Place the walnuts in a small skillet and toast over medium heat, tossing often, until fragrant and lightly toasted (This step is not required). Set aside to cool.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, put in the spinach, cooled walnuts, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Give the ingredients a few pulses to break them up a bit. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and re-distribute the ingredients if necessary.

With the machine running, gradually stream in the olive oil through the feed tube, blending until the mixture is smooth. The pesto's consistency should be thick but still easily pourable. If the pesto is too thick, add additional olive oil in very small amounts to adjust the consistency.

Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 2 days, or in the freezer for up to 2 months. Defrost completely before using.

What are your favorite quick and healthy recipes?

Flavia Scalzitti is a food blogger based in Houston, Texas. She is originally from Maryland and comes from an Italian family. Flavia grew up around people who used food and cooking as a way to keep their traditions alive, celebrate their Italian culture, express their love for their family, and nourish the people they cooked for with the freshest and best quality ingredients. She is entirely self-taught and is also passionate about baking. In addition to cooking and baking, Flavia enjoys learning about and practicing photography, reading, traveling, practicing yoga, and spending time with her husband, Peter. She blogs at Flavia's Flavors: http://www.flaviasflavors.com

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