Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Spinach and Basil Pesto Recipe (and Ten More Interesting Pesto Variations)

Spinach and Basil Pesto
In early summer, make this Spinach and Basil Pesto to stretch out your basil!

(Updated with better photos and step-by-step directions June 2013.)  One of my favorite things about having a garden is Pesto,  something I make many times every summer.  Pesto is a great way to use and preserve huge bunches of basil, but this Spinach and Basil Pesto is something I make early in the summer when my basil is just starting to come on.  (Later when I have a surplus of basil, I freeze some of the fresh basil for winter and make some into Basil Pesto with Lemon, which I also freeze.)  This double green pesto is delicious on grilled or sauteed vegetables, grilled chicken, fish, or pasta.  Of course, there are as many ways to make pesto as there are cooks who make it; check the list after the recipe to see some of the interesting pesto variations other bloggers have created.

I think the proportions of equal amounts of spinach and basil is great in this recipe, but if you don't have that many basil plants, you could use less basil. I like my pesto a bit heavy on the cheese and pine nuts compared to some people, but pesto is something that's always easy to adapt to your own taste so have fun experimenting with this delicious combination.

Two cups of packed basil is a big salad spinner full; give the basil is good wash and spin dry.

You'll need 2 packed cups each of basil and spinach leaves.

Use the food processor to chop the spinach and basil, stirring a few times as needed to get it going.

Then add the garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan and process until it's well blended.

Finally, add the olive oil through the feed tube of the food processor and process until it's as smooth as you'd like.  That's it!

Spinach and Basil Pesto
And just to show that my photography has definitely improved, here's the first photo of this recipe from back in 2007!

Spinach and Basil Pesto
(Makes about 3 cups of pesto, recipe created by Kalyn when she had fresh basil and spinach in the fridge and a craving for pesto!)

To make this successfully you'll need a food processor. There are many good brands, but for many years I've used a Cuisinart Food Processor DLC 10.

(Pesto is always made to taste, so feel free to use more or less of any ingredient, whatever appeals to you.)
2 cups (packed) fresh spinach leaves
2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves (washed and spun dry or dried with paper towels)
2 T garlic puree or finely minced fresh garlic
2/3 cup pine nuts (more or less to taste)
1 1/3 cup good quality grated Parmesan cheese (more or less to taste)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (more or less to taste)

Spinach and basil should be washed and dried well. Put in food processor with steel blade and pulse repeatedly until both are well chopped, stirring a few times as needed. Add garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan and blend for 2-3 minutes until nuts are finely chopped and mixture is well combined.

With lid on and processor running, drizzle olive oil in through the feed tube until mixture is the consistency you prefer. I don't like my pesto to be too thick, but if you prefer a thicker texture, you won't need as much oil.

This is good as a sauce on pasta, used as lasagna sauce, or served over vegetables, chicken, or fish. The pesto will keep for about a week in the refrigerator.  You can freeze it, but you probably won't have any left!

Click Here for Printer Friendly Recipe

South Beach Suggestions:
Olive oil, pine nuts, and Parmesan cheese are all high in fat, but only the Parmesan has what South Beach would consider to be "bad fat." Eaten over vegetables, chicken, or fish, this would be acceptable for any phase of the South Beach Diet, but I'd limit portion size consider it a "once in a while treat" due to the high fat content.

Nutritional Information?
I chose the South Beach Diet to manage my weight partly so I wouldn't have to count calories, carbs, points, or fat grams, but if you want nutritional information for a recipe, I recommend entering the recipe into Calorie Count, which will calculate it for you.

Ten More Interesting Pesto Variations to Try:
(Recipes from other blogs may or may not be South Beach friendly; check ingredients.)
Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto ~ Kalyn's Kitchen
Asparagus Pesto with Pasta ~ Simply Recipes
Chard and Garlic Scape Pesto ~ Kalyn's Kitchen
Beet Pesto ~ A Veggie Venture
Sage-Pecan Pesto ~ Kalyn's Kitchen
Artichoke Pesto ~ Fat Free Vegan Kitchen
Garlic Scape Pesto ~ Kalyn's Kitchen
Dandelion Pesto ~ David Lebovitz
Basil, Arugula, Scallion, and Lemon Pesto Sauce ~ Kalyn's Kitchen
Broccoli Pesto ~ Family Fresh Cooking

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Posts may include links to my affiliate account at Amazon.com, and this blog earns a few cents on the dollar if readers purchase the items I recommend, so thanks for supporting my blog when you shop at Amazon!

More to Chew On:


  1. Sounds great! I'm dying to know what vegetable you ate with this! The last time I had pesto, it was on pizza :-)h

  2. This sounds like a pesto I might be willing to try. I've had pesto a few times at restaurants and have never liked it (I know, I'm strange). But I think if it has a lot of extra stuff in it to mask the pine nut taste, I'm ok. For instance, I buy a sun-dried tomato pesto that I like. How similar do you think this tastes to traditional pesto?

  3. Zoe, I've always made my mom's walnut pesto. Maybe you'd like that.

    Kalyn, this sounds like a great idea! I love spinach. I am going to try this as a pasta side dish, with pesto's best friend, cherry tomatoes, thrown in.

    As for freezing, all the cookbooks I've ever read on the subject say it freezes beautifully if you don't add the cheese. (you add the cheese later when you thaw and use it)

  4. I really appreciate these recipes. I love pesto, but it can get quite pricey to buy all the ingredients fresh. I imagine the spinach pesto would go quite a long ways and could be used on a variety of dishes.

  5. Nicole, pesto is so great on pizza. (And *someday* I AM going to make a pizza.)

    Zoe, I think the spinach makes this a lot milder than regular pizza. And agree, use a different type of nuts if you're not hot on pine nuts. I think almonds are good in pesto. Pesto is all about changing the proportions to what you like.

    Debbie, good idea about using different nuts. I actually have frozen pesto with cheese plenty of times. It's the raw spinach that I was wondering how it would freeze. I should have tried it! Next time.

    Kelly, this would be a lot cheaper,. I didn't think of that since I have quite an abundance of basil.

  6. Mmm mm mm! I'm in a bit of a pesto phase right now and I love spinach, so this sounds perfect!

    Ari (Baking and Books)

  7. One of the best parts of summer is homemade pesto! Adding spinach sounds like a nice variation.
    Now, to just wait for the basil glut. My garden is a slow starter this year due to cool rainy weather... but we're finally getting sunshine so I have hope!
    I've made one batch of pesto but way too little for the freezer...

  8. I use pesto on potato gnocchi as well as pasta. And yes, the fact that you can freeze it is just fantastic. I don't have basil in my garden, so when I buy it I need to use it fast and making pesto is the ideal solution.

  9. I'm always looking to add spinach to everything but I've not put it in pesto . . . why not . . . no early reason I can think of except I didn't think of it. I'm thinking this would be heavenly on cauliflower among other veggies.

  10. Ari, have fun in that pesto phase. Sounds like a good phase to be in.

    Katie, soon. Your pesto time will come.

    Simona, sounds delicious on gnocchi.

    Tanna, great idea, but it's not cauliflower. I do think I'll try that next though!

  11. Wow! Great pesto recipe! I love adding the spinach. Pesto rules the world. :):)

  12. I love pine nuts but I actually like toasted walnuts in my pesto better.

    Not sure if I would like them better with the spinach though.

    Looks yummy Kalyn.

  13. Thanks for the suggestions of walnuts and almonds to use. Both sound good. I'm in an almond kick right now, so I might try that first.

  14. I like to freeze pesto in a mini-muffin tin. This creates perfect portions of pesto to use throughout the year as needed. To do it, lightly grease your mini-muffin tin with Pam. Place a good tablespooon full of pesto in each muffin compartment. Place the filled tin in your freezer on a flat surface. Freeze overnight. Take the tin out of the frezer and let it thaw for just a minute or two. Remove pestos from the tins and transfer to a container with a sealed lid. Now you have individual sized frozen pesto portions to use as needed!

  15. Ok, I used walnuts in place of pine nuts and liked the result very much. I think cutting the amount of basil with spinach also helped me like it more than I usually like pesto. Hubby and I both approve!

  16. Anonymous, great idea.

    Zoe, very glad to hear it!

  17. we freeze our homemade pesto in plastic containers saved from the soups that we order from the local Chinese takeouts. Just pour 1/4 to 1/2 an inch of olive oil on top of the pesto in the container,leaving about a 1/2 inch of headroom for expansion when it freezes and it will keep until next year.I once found an old container hidden in the back of the freezer that was several years old and it still tasted great with no loss of taste and no freezer burn at all!

    Mike S. <:{{><

  18. great recipe! trying it today, and will somehow incorporate pomegranate in it for a POM recipe contest. thinking of a pasta salad with pomegrante. will freeze leftovers!

  19. I've got to try this. Adding spinach makes it more nutritious anyway. I hope it doesn't dilute the basil taste too much though since I'm such a big basil fan.

  20. For all of you 'freezers', how do you best suggest thawing your pesto? I froze my leftovers in regular-muffin-sized glass containers with lids. How should I defrost them? If I microwave, I assume that would cook the pesto and or melt the cheese in it... not ideal I assume. Any suggestions would be helpful and appreciated. Thank you!

  21. Delight I try to thaw pesto overnight in the refrigerator. If I forget to plan ahead, I thaw in the sink in hot water. (Put the container in the sink and fill with just enough hot water that it won't leak into the container.)

  22. This is my favorite pesto recipe! I use almonds for my nuts and make a pesto cream out of it using butter, cream, and more cheese. I freeze this pesto in an ice cube tray, then take out as many as I want about an hour before I want to use them. They thaw really quickly. I also use this pesto to make pesto meatballs. Yum!

  23. I always look forward to summer pesto made with all sorts of veggies - spinach, kale, Swiss chard and garlic scapes I even tossed in some beet greens last summer. Recently, I blended some basil pesto w/ sundried tomatoes and garlic and spread some on chicken breasts before coating it in bread crumbs and baking it. The kids loved it.

  24. I love pesto! and to combine basil with spinach sounds delectable. I will try it this weekend. Thanks, Kalyn.

  25. Thanks Jeanette and Wanda; glad you like it!

  26. I haven't tried pesto with spinach, but I'm definitely going to! I find straight basil pesto to be too "basily"! My favorite is another variation, using arugula and basil. Arugula has a wonderful, nutty flavor and grows pretty easily in the garden. Give it a try!

  27. Eileen, I love arugula, and I have tried it in pesto. I agree, it's a winner! Glad you like this idea too.

  28. Just made a half batch of this with my first harvest of basil for the summer. I used walnuts. Mmm! So happy for basil/pesto season!

  29. Katrina, I agree. Love pesto on so many things.

  30. Brand new to the pesto world. But I love the starbucks tomato and mozzarella panini sandwich that calls for spinach basil pesto. So here i go, into the new world of pesto :) wish me luck and thanks for all the advice

    1. Debbie, there are so many fun variations; hope you enjoy this one!


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