Spinach Pesto Pasta

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Spinach Pesto is the available-year-round, more affordable, vibrant green cousin of basil pesto. The flavor is mild and lets the olive oil, garlic, and parmesan flavors shine through. Serve it at room temperature with bread or pasta for a pasta salad or simmer it with cream and stir in your favorite pasta shape for a pasta with sautéed spinach like you’ve never had before. 

spinach pesto pasta on a white plate

Move over basil pesto, you’ve got competition. Spinach pesto is basil pesto’s fun, fresh cousin. It has a more subtle flavor than the basil version, a more budget-friendly price tag, and it is absolutely packed with vibrant green goodness. The next time you grab a bag or clamshell of baby spinach at the grocery store that ends up going unused in the back of your fridge, whip up a batch of this!

Once you make it, you’ll find you have many ways to use it, but pesto pizza, pesto pasta salad, or in a super easy pasta dish, simmered with some cream (recipe below!) are great places to start.

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ingredients for spinach pesto in the bowl of a food processor

Ingredients in Spinach Pesto

  • Baby Spinach – Just grab a bag of pre-washed baby spinach and you’re good to go. There’s no need to add basil to this recipe. You’ll get delicious, fresh flavors by just using spinach, but if have some around that you want to add in go for it!
  • Olive Oil – Don’t use anything but extra virgin olive oil here. Spinach has a mild flavor, so everything else will really shine through. Only EVOO will do.
  • Lemon Juice and Balsamic Vinegar – In this twist on pesto, these two acidic ingredients really come together to give the spinach pesto tart, fresh flavor. The lemon juice also helps the spinach retain its bright green color and flavor if you’re not using it right away. 
  • Toasted Slivered Almonds – I find that these have a nutty, rich flavor that complement the spinach pesto so well, but other nuts or seeds can definitely be used. Walnuts, pecans, pine nuts (classic), or toasted sunflower seeds would all work. 
  • Garlic – Adjust the amount you use depending on your feelings about garlic, but don’t skip it. Again, because the flavors are more mild here, the garlic will really help them to shine.
  • Parmesan Cheese – A little cheese goes a long way here and parmesan will give you the most flavor. See below for some ideas if you want to make it vegan or just want to use a substitute.
spinach pesto in the bowl of a food processor

Pasta with Sauteed Spinach

One of the best ways to use spinach pesto (IMHO) is to briefly saute the spinach mixture and make it into a creamy, warm pasta. See the notes section in the recipe card below for a printable version, but here are the steps:

  1. Make a batch of spinach pesto.
  2. Cook your favorite pasta according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 minced shallot to a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach pesto and saute for 2 minutes. 
  5. Move the pan off the heat and stir in ¼ cup of heavy cream and the cooked pasta, adding reserved pasta water as needed to loosen up the sauce.
  6. Serve warm with parmesan cheese grated over top. Enjoy!

Variations

  • Make it nut-free: Use roasted, unsalted sunflower seeds instead of nuts so you still get that toasted, nutty flavor.
  • Make it vegan: Use nutritional yeast instead of parmesan.
  • Use a different type of cheese: Any firm, crumbly cheese will work instead of parmesan. Pecorino is always a good option. And, as noted, above, nutritional yeast is a great substitute with a similar savory flavor.
stirring pesto into spiral pasta in a large saute pan

FAQs

Do I need to blanch the spinach?

Definitely not! The olive oil and lemon juice will help the spinach to retain its bright green color and fresh flavor. 

Can I use frozen spinach?

Technically, yes, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Frozen spinach holds a lot of water, and you run the risk of a watery, flavorless pesto.

Can I use a different type of cheese instead of Parmesan?

Absolutely. Any crumbly, salty cheese will work well. Or use nutritional yeast for a vegan version with a similar flavor. 

spinach pesto pasta on a white plate

More Yummy Spinach Recipes

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spinach pesto pasta on a white plate
5 from 1 vote

Spinach Pesto

Spinach pesto is a fast, fresh, affordable alternative to basil pesto. Use it anywhere you would use basil pesto, but it makes a particularly delicious pasta with sauteed spinach (see recipe in notes).
Prep: 10 minutes
Total: 10 minutes
Servings: 6

Equipment

  • Food Processor
  • Small Jar with Lid

Ingredients 

  • 5 ounces baby spinach (5 ounces = about 5 cups of loosely packed leaves)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1-2 cloves garlic (depending on how garlicky you like your pesto)
  • 1 ounce parmesan cheese (no need to grate it first)

Instructions 

  • Combine everything in a food processor and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed.
  • To store the pesto, transfer it to a jar and cover it with a thin layer of olive oil. Seal with a lid and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Notes

One of the best ways to use spinach pesto (IMHO) is to briefly saute the spinach mixture and make it into a creamy, warm pasta. 
To make Creamy Pasta with Sauteed Spinach:
  1. Make a batch of spinach pesto as described above.
  2. Cook your favorite pasta according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup of pasta water.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 minced shallot to a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook for 2 minutes.
  4. Add the spinach pesto and saute for 2 minutes. 
  5. Move the pan off the heat and stir in ¼ cup of heavy cream and the cooked pasta, adding reserved pasta water as needed to loosen up the sauce.
  6. Serve warm with parmesan cheese grated over top. Enjoy!

Nutrition

Serving: 0.25cup | Calories: 141kcal | Carbohydrates: 3g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 13g | Saturated Fat: 2g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 2g | Monounsaturated Fat: 9g | Trans Fat: 0.002g | Cholesterol: 3mg | Sodium: 292mg | Potassium: 190mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 2302IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 98mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Author: Jess Smith via Inquiring Chef
Cost: $4.00
Calories: 141
Keyword: easy sauce, homemade sauce, pesto, spinach recipe, vegetarian
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About Jess Smith

Jess is the recipe creator and photographer at InquiringChef.com. She spent nearly a decade as the Chief Recipe Developer for the award-winning meal planning app Cook Smarts. Her colorful, healthyish recipes have been featured in popular online publications including Parade, Hallmark, and HuffPost.

5 from 1 vote (1 rating without comment)

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