What makes us fall in love with pesto? This simple sauce, with only six ingredients, can be whipped up in under twenty minutes and can last for weeks when stored in your freezer. I find I can’t get enough of it, whether dolloped on top of a sweet potato, coating my gluten free pasta noodles, or mounded on top of a piping hot bowl of minestrone. It’s silky, cheesy, and oh so wonderfully green. But there’s more!
Making pesto for your family is an amazing way to introduce them to how simple and flavorful a meatless meal can be when you start with good ingredients. In Liguria, Italy, where pesto comes from, they take great pride in the sweet basil leaves that grow only in that region, which makes their pesto so unique. For me, the joy of making pesto is using what we have readily available in our own markets or kitchen pantries, and every season switching up this classic recipe with the greens we have on hand (and really need to use up before they go to waste!).
This spring, we took seventy families on a culinary adventure through my Joyful 12 Online Kitchen Learning Lab. We explored twelve vegetables and fruits together, and kicked off spring with spinach. So I decided to break with pesto tradition and weave this nutritious green into a simple spring sauce. With no surprise, families wrote in about how much they loved the pesto, and not always for the reasons you may think:
We love pesto because it’s forgiving. To make a great pesto, you need to use your taste buds as your guide. Yes, you should start with a sound ratio of greens to cheese to garlic, nuts and olive oil, but once you have that basic recipe down, pesto will allow you to play. Don’t have spinach on hand? Why not try arugula! Are those collard greens going to waste in your produce drawer? Then blanch them and toss them into your mixer with some fresh sweet basil, and you’ve got a great condiment to top grilled chicken, potatoes, or pizzas.
When it comes to cooking and trying to get more fresh produce into our diets, we have to start with a recipe that’s fun. For me, pesto is a fun ambassador. So this summer, don’t miss the opportunity to get into the kitchen with your family and mix up some cheesy, green sauces and let your imagination go wild with all the ways you can green up your favorites with a sweet dollop of pesto.
More ideas on how to create your own pesto coming this Thursday!
- garbanzo beans (chickpeas), 1 15 oz can
- penne pasta (Barilla, gluten free), 1 12 oz box
- parmesan cheese (grated), 1/3 cup
- walnuts, 1/3 cup
- spinach (baby), 2 cups
- basil (fresh), 2 cups
- salt, 1 tsp
- olive oil, 2/3 cup
- Culinary Note: in our family, we make pesto without garlic. If your children love garlic, add 1-2 garlic cloves when you are grinding the nuts and cheese. I find kids are not always as fond of pesto as adults and this recipe is mild, refreshing and springy! When tossing our pesto with the pasta, we also like to throw a can of chickpeas in to make it a full meal, loaded with protein!
- Take 5 minutes to get out all your ingredients, measuring and cooking equipment needed, and place them on a cookie sheet within easy reach.
- Grate parmesan cheese. Set aside a little extra to sprinkle on top of your final dish.
- Get a pot of water boiling and drain and rinse can of chickpeas.
- First grind cheese and walnuts together in a food processor.
- Add basil and spinach gradually, with olive oil, to combine.
- Add salt, blend and check for overall seasoning.
- Cook pasta according to the box instructions and drain (generally between 6-9 minutes).
- In a bowl, combine cooked pasta with pesto and chickpeas, stir, and serve with some extra Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
- Note: when storing leftover pesto, always add a little olive oil on top to coat the surface. This will prevent the beautiful green color from turning brown from oxidation.