We are in the season of greens. And while they aren't my daughter's favorite food eaten raw, I have found one very reliable way to serve them to her—pesto!
I've been making spinach pesto for the past month in an effort not to waste any of the spinach that we're getting from our raised beds, CSA, or at the farmer's market. It's a very simple method for a very mild pesto that is wonderful on pasta, spread onto pizza, or stirred into a whole grain like couscous, millet, or quinoa. It's not strongly flavored, but it does have flavor, which makes it a nice intro to pesto for toddlers who are new to the sauce.
I make this a few different ways, and those variations are below, and I've made it with baby spinach, regular spinach, and even a few batches with some kale thrown in the mix. My daughter loves it every which way, though her favorite is on pasta.
Basic Spinach Pesto
This pesto freezes well, so you can make a double batch and save some for another day. Simply fill up an ice cube tray, freeze overnight, then pop out and store in a zip top freezer bag in the freezer for up to 3 months. Use a few cubes at a time—thawed in the fridge or briefly in the microwave—in recipes as you like.
Makes: enough to coat about 10-12 ounces pasta
- 5-6 ounces fresh spinach
- Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
- 2 tablespoons roasted sunflower seeds
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
- 2-3 tablespoons olive oil
- Salt to taste
- Place the spinach into a large bowl and cover with very hot water. Let sit until wilted, stirring a bit, about 3 minutes. Drain and let cool. Squeeze dry.
- Put the wilted spinach into the bowl of a food processor along with the lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, sunflower seeds, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Blend to combine. Stop to scrape down the sides as needed and blend until smooth. Add a bit more olive oil if needed to create the desired smooth consistency and season to taste with salt.
- Stir into cooked pasta with halved cherry tomatoes, sliced cucumbers, and white beans.
- Creamy Spinach Pesto: Use cream cheese instead of olive oil.
- Cheesy Spinach Pesto: Use cream cheese instead of olive oil and add 1/4 cup shredded mozzarella.
- Basil-Spinach Pesto: Add a handful of fresh basil leaves to the mix.
- Nutty Spinach Pesto: Use walnuts, almonds, or pine nuts instead of the sunflower seeds.
- Lemony Spinach Pesto: Add the zest and juice of one whole lemon.