While some might consider straight-up basil pesto their go-to pesto, I actually prefer this spinach & basil pesto. I literally make it constantly, whether for myself or for cheffing purposes. Toss with pasta, use as a dip for crudités, pair with beef and chicken or dollop on pizza (aka use it in any way you would use regular basil pesto).
So why would I replace some of the basil in classic pesto with spinach? Like, why would someone do that? Isn’t basil good enough? Listen, I love basil, it holds a special place in my heart. But here’s the thing, buying enough basil to make a sufficient amount of pesto can get pricy. Adding baby spinach to the mix cuts down on that cost. And maybe you have an herb garden, so cost isn’t an issue, but making a big batch of basil pesto will pretty much wipe out your supply. Adding baby spinach saves some of your precious homegrown basil for other uses. And maybe neither of these is an issue, but a pure basil pesto is just too much basil flavor. Again, baby spinach saves the day. And if none of these are issues for you, you should still give spinach & basil pesto a try if only because it’s totally delish!
When I’m catering and making large quantities while also watching costs, this spinach & basil pesto is the perfect solution. Plus, with a subdued basil flavor, it’s more of a crowd pleaser too. Net net, it’s a winner. One last note… I’ve added my favorite nut-free substitute, pumpkin seeds, as an alternative to pine nuts in this recipe. Why? Firstly, because pumpkin seeds are much cheaper than pine nuts. Secondly, I get a lot of questions concerning nut-free substitutes in recipes, and pumpkin seeds are one of my absolute favorite swaps.
Spinach & Basil Pesto
Yield: 1 to 1-1/4 cup Start to Finish: 10 minutes
2-3 peeled garlic cloves, roughly chopped (see notes)
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup raw or toasted pine nuts (or toasted pumpkin seeds, see notes)
2 cups packed baby spinach leaves
2 to 2.5 ounces fresh basil leaves
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to consistency
sea salt, fine grain
freshly cracked black pepper
Add garlic, cheese, nuts/seeds and spinach to a food processor. Pulse until roughly chopped and well mixed. Add basil leaves, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon black pepper. Pulse until just combined. With processor going, drizzle olive oil into the mixture. Add more olive oil to achieve desired consistency. Add additional sea salt and black pepper to taste.
The amount of salt depends on the use for the pesto. If it’s a dip or spread eaten in concentrated amounts, it will need less salt than if it’s being tossed with a full pound of pasta. This is also true for the garlic. If I’m using this pesto on pasta where it will be stretched out and heated, it can handle 3 or even 4 cloves garlic. But for something that’s not being heated at all, and eaten in more concentrated amounts, use just 2 cloves (or even 1 if you’re sensitive to garlic).
Pumpkin seeds are a great way to cut cost (pine nuts are expensive) or to make this recipe nut-free.