Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad

I am a huge fan of any kind of cooking that only requires boiling water and throwing a bunch of stuff in the food processor – especially when the temps reach 95 plus here in D.C.  Pestos are such a natural for summer cooking but most people are only familiar with the basil Pesto alla genovese, delicious for sure but there are lots of pestos out there to explore.  Pesto actually means a sauce made by pounding ingredients together so they can take a lot of different forms and don’t have to include basil or even be green!  In the old country nonnas used a mortar and pestle for their pestos but this girl goes for the speed and convenience of a food processor.  If you don’t have the space or desire for a big expensive food processor I would suggest spending the $30 or so and get a mini chop like this one.  You may have to make pestos like this one in batches so all the spinach fits in but that really just adds a couple of seconds to the process (and they come in so many cute colors!).  I of course have both a mini chop and a large 9 cup processor but that’s me.  They are great for sauces like this, for making doughs, for slicing veggies or grating cheese – they really are the all purpose work horses of the kitchen.  In less than 10 seconds my food processor took the ingredients for this pesto from disparate ingredients to a beautiful sauce.

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This pasta salad is a nice greek twist on a classic and a great way to get in healthy dark greens into your diet.  I made quite a few changes from the original recipe, mostly because it made enough for a small army.  However, don’t let that stop you from making your own changes.  I served this with ricotta salata instead of feta because I find the feta crumbles too much in the salad but it’s still delicious if that’s what you have on hand.  Orzo was called for in the original and I like that shape but any short cut pasta would work.  You may notice that I don’t instruct you to add any salt to this recipe which for a salt freak like me is rare.  However, the parmesan, ricotta salata and olives really add a salty punch so wait until the whole salad is composed before adding any salt – you may feel like me that you don’t actually need any.  If you wanted to make it a whole meal throw some grilled chicken on top and call it a day.  I served it with lemon marinated grilled pork tenderloin but it would also be great with a lovely piece of fish.  This salad also holds up really well and can sit forever so perfect for a picnic or BBQ.  I would say you could make it up to 3 days in advance and it would be just as good.

Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad (printable version at the end of the post)

Inspiration:  Orzo Salad with Spinach Pesto, Olives and Feta by the kitchn
Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 5 ounce package of baby spinach (baby spinach is a better pick here as its more tender)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound of orzo (basically 3/4 of the box)
  • 3 ounces ricotta salata
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives

In the food processor buzz around the spinach, walnuts, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and lemon juice for a couple of seconds until all chopped.  Through the pour spout drizzle in the olive oil while processor is running.  Scrape the sides to make sure everything is combined, buzz again for a second if needed.  In the meantime cook the orzo, dice the ricotta salata and slice or chop the olives.  Drain the orzo, mix in the pesto, then stir in the cheese and olives.  Serve immediately, in a couple of hours or a couple of days!

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Spinach Pesto Pasta Salad

  • Servings: 3-4
  • Time: 12 minutes
  • Print

Special Equipment:  food processor

  • 5 ounce package of baby spinach (baby spinach is a better pick here as its more tender)
  • 1/4 cup walnuts
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3/4 pound of orzo (basically 3/4 of the box)
  • 3 ounces ricotta salata
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives

In the food processor buzz around the spinach, walnuts, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, and lemon juice for a couple of seconds until all chopped.  Through the pour spout drizzle in the olive oil while processor is running.  Scrape the sides to make sure everything is combined, buzz again for a second if needed.  In the meantime cook the orzo, dice the ricotta salata and slice or chop the olives.  Drain the orzo, mix in the pesto, then stir in the cheese and olives.  Serve immediately, in a couple of hours or a couple of days!

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