Spinach Basil Pesto

This past Saturday at the Springfield winter farmers market I filled my arms up with oodles of spring greens- crisp butter lettuce, crunchy kale, vibrant spinach, delicate arugula. Fresh herbs including basil and cilantro overflowed off the market stands, calling my name. The usual winter roots (potatoes, turnips, and beets) made their appearance as well, but for me, this week was all about the green stuff.

I used to fret about buying greens at the grocery store. It seemed I'd take them home and make a small salad, and the very next day I'd open the refrigerator door to find browning leaves or a slimy film and have to pitch out 3/4 of the package. They never last more than a couple days, and I had trouble justifying the cost of buying them knowing that I'd have to eat an entire package of greens in one day in order to get my money's worth. But fresh greens at the market almost always last me up to two weeks! Let me say that again, TWO WEEKS! That means salad every day my friends! I love prepping a few salads on Sunday for a quick grab and go lunch at the office or easy dinner after a long day. And my second favorite thing to do with greens when I inevitably buy too much, as I often do when I'm excited about the first greens of spring, is make pesto. Simple. Flexible. And oh-so-good on everything from morning toast to mid-day sandwiches, as a dressing on a salad (greens on greens!), and sauce for your favorite pasta, like this Collard Pesto Pasta Salad.

Collard Pesto Pasta Salad from Our State

While the recipe above calls for collards, I made my latest batch of pesto with spinach. While I do love spinach, it's not my favorite salad green, and I often opt to toss it in with eggs in the morning or soup in the evening for an extra punch of nutrition. It also is PERFECT for pesto. A couple weeks ago I packed up a fresh spinach pesto and took it to a health fair for 5th graders to sample. There's nothing like seeing kiddos realize they actually just might love spinach.

SPINACH NUTRITION

Spinach is a nutritious green despite its 80-90 percent water content. It is high in chlorophyll, vitamin A, and vitamin C, all best retained by no or minimal cooking.

SPINACH STORAGE

Store spinach in a damp towel or plastic bag in the refrigerator.

For longer-term storage, spinach may be frozen. Blanch for 1-2 minutes, rinse in cold water, drain well, and pack into airtight containers.

Nutrition and storage info from Asparagus to Zucchini: A Guide to Cooking Farm-Fresh Seasonal Produce, Third Edition

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 cups fresh spinach (or substitute any dark leafy green: arugula, kale, collards, beet greens, turnip greens, chard, or any combination of the above).

  • 2 cups fresh basil

  • ½ cup roughly chopped walnuts (may substitute raw almonds, cashews, or pine nuts..or pre-roasted and salted nuts of any variety)

  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

  • ½ cup olive oil (plus additional 1/4 cup as needed)

  • 3 Tbsp. lemon juice

  • 1 clove garlic

  • Salt and pepper to taste

PREPARATION

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toast walnuts on baking sheet for about 12 minutes (shake after 6 minutes). If using pre-roasted/salted almonds or another nut substitution, skip this step.

2. Fill a large stockpot three-quarters full with water, and bring to a boil over high heat.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl half way up with ice and water and set close to the sink.

3. Give your greens and basil a thorough rinse.

4. Add into the boiling water and stir. After 1 minute, strain the greens, and plunge them into the bowl with ice water. Blanching the greens in this manner will help preserve their bright green color. Drain the greens again and squeeze them tightly to get as much water out as possible. If you are less concerned with the color and are looking for ease, skip this step.

5. Combine the greens and walnuts with the Parmesan, garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, in a food processor and process until a smooth. Taste and season with additional salt, if desired.

Package your pesto up in a small glass jar and top with extra olive oil to seal out air and prevent the pesto from turning brown. The pesto should last about 7 days in your fridge. You can also make a big batch, freeze it in ice cube tray or small jars, and pop into a plastic bag to store in your freezer for up to 4 months. When you're ready, allow the frozen pesto to de-thaw overnight in the fridge or set them on the counter at room temp for about a half hour and then mash with a fork. Perfect pesto ready for any recipe!

Note: ingredients are an approximation and can be adjusted to suit your taste.

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