Friday, July 5, 2013

Lemony Spinach Pesto Sauce

It's hot hot hot out there! When the temperature starts pushing 90 degrees, the idea of slaving over a hot stove for 30 minutes to make dinner is just SO unappealing. AMIRIGHT?!

Making a quick and delicious pesto sauce is the perfect way to still eat delicious homemade food without sweating it out in the kitchen. This Lemony Spinach Pesto Sauce is a summery twist on a classic. Fresh herbs and lemon zest make this pesto bright and refreshing, while spinach replaces most of the basil in a traditional pesto for a thick and earthy sauce. The zests of citrus fruits are packed with the essential oils of the fruit and they really amp up the flavor more than just the juice alone.

The word "pesto" is derived from an Italian word "pestare" which essentially means to pound or to crush. Pesto was traditionally made by combining all the ingredients in a mortar and using a wooden pestle to literally crush all the ingredients together. Luckily, today, we have a fancy high-tech gadget that will do all the work for us.

That is, a food processor. Thank you, culinary wizards, for this invention.

Now, making pesto is easier than ever! For this particular sauce, we combine spinach, basil, lemon zest, sliced almonds, thyme, oregano, garlic and crushed black pepper in a food processor until chopped.

Next, lemon juice and vegetable broth join the party. Using lemon juice and broth help give the pesto a more sauce-like consistency without using an entire cup of olive oil.

Speaking of olive oil, stream in a bit of olive oil with the food processor running until desired consistency is reached. Wizz in a generous amount of grated parmesan cheese and some salt to finish off the sauce. Perfect!

This pesto freezes really well, so feel free to make the sauce ahead of time and defrost it whenever you need a quick weeknight meal. For last night's dinner, we enjoyed this pesto on top of Gemelli pasta and baked chicken. The spinach can be a little tough if it does not have time to wilt a little bit on top of the dish, so be sure to add the pesto to your pasta or meat while it's still hot and allow it to steam a little bit to soften the spinach.

Top all pesto dishes with a little extra grated cheese. Remember -- you're worth it :-)

Here's what you need for Lemon Spinach Pesto Sauce* (Print Recipe!)

4 ounches baby spinach leaves, picked of any large stems
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, rinsed and picked of any large stems
1/4 cup slivered blanched almonds
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons minced garlic (or 1 garlic clove, chopped)
Black pepper to taste
1 lemon, zested and juiced
2 tablespoons low sodium vegetable broth
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
Salt to taste

Here's what you do

In the bowl of a food processor or blender, combined the spinach, basil, almonds, thyme, oregano, garlic, pepper, and lemon zest. Pulse about 5 times until finely chopped.

Add the juice of 1/2 the lemon and the vegetable broth. Pulse to combined, about 3 times.

With the food processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until desired consistency is reached. Stop the food processor and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Add the parmesan and salt and process an addition 10 seconds.

At this point, you can chill the pesto or freeze it for a later use. Serve with pasta of your choice, chicken, steak, or on crusty bread. Be sure to add the pesto while the dish is still hot, and cover about 2 minutes to wilt the spinach slightly. Enjoy with additional grated cheese on top!

*Pesto recipe adapted from Cooking Light Magazine

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