My early attempts at making pesto using basil were disappointing. Though it tasted good, it always turned a mucky brown color. Enter spinach. It has a vibrant color and fresh flavor that pairs well with the walnuts in the pesto itself. You also get a range of colors and textures from the tomatoes, pine nuts, cheese and greens. This pasta salad is a snap to put together and is great for potlucks, as it is served at room temperature. The mixing of fresh greens with the pasta salad was inspired by trips to Gayle’s Bakery near Santa Cruz, where they mix pasta into their caesar salad. —monkeymom
pasta (penne, gemelli, corkscrew, or shells)
bag of baby spinach
extra virgin olive oil
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese (or more, to suit your taste)
Bring large pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook for recommended time.
While the pasta is cooking, add 2/3 of the spinach into a food processor. Add olive oil, walnuts, garlic and salt. Process until you get desired texture – I prefer some slight chunks but you can also process it very smooth.
When pasta is done cooking, drain and rinse or shock pasta in cold water to stop the cooking process and cool the pasta. Put pasta into a large salad bowl.
Add 2/3 of spinach pesto mixture to pasta and stir to coat. Sprinkle in ¾ of the cheese while mixing to distribute. Check seasoning and add salt or more cheese if necessary. If taking this to a potluck, here is a good stopping point. You can dress the salad and toss all the ingredients together right before serving to make sure the spinach doesn’t wilt.
Add rest of spinach to bowl and most of tomatoes. Squeeze a little lemon juice onto leaves and add the rest of the pesto and a sprinkling of salt. Toss leaves to coat.
Bring pasta up from bottom and toss with greens. Add remaining tomatoes, pine nuts and cheese before serving.
My favorite distraction is to cook. Though science and cooking/baking have a lot in common, I'm finding that each allows me to enjoy very different parts of my life. Cooking connects me with my heritage, my family, friends, and community. I'm really enjoying learning from the food52 community, who expose me to different ingredients and new ways to cook.