creamy spinach-pumpkin seed pesto

When I was in Rome in high school, I had dinner one night at a restaurant that literally served nothing but pasta. And tiramisu, obviously.

Although it’s one of the simplest meals I’ve ever had at a restaurant, the creamy pesto sauce I enjoyed over a simple fettucini haunts me to this day. But for some reason, I’ve never attempted to turn my pesto creamy.

I’ll say one thing: the pesto recipe I created tonight is nothing like a classic pesto sauce; it uses neither basil nor pine nuts. But it sure is delicious.

I could pretend that I planned out this sauce days in advance, but what I really did was check to see what dark greens I had in the fridge and what seeds and nuts were sitting in the pantry.

With no fresh basil on hand, I turned to my trusty baby spinach leaves, packed with vitamin A and iron. Although I did have some pine nuts, I was instantly drawn to a container of deep green, teardrop-shaped pumpkin seeds.  Not only do pumpkin seeds have a unique, almost creamy, quality to them, they are chock-full of minerals like manganese, magnesium, zinc and iron. With just a much protein as pine nuts, they make a great alternative for those with nut allergies and they provide a lovely earthy flavour.

Here’s what I used to (finally) create a creamy spinach pesto sauce:

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup shelled pumpkin seeds, toasted
  • 2 cups (packed) of fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 cups low-fat milk (1 or 2%)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/4 tsp salt

  1. In a food processor, pulse together the garlic, toasted pumpkin seeds and spinach until finely chopped.
  2. Add the lemon juice, parmesan and pepper. Combine briefly.
  3. While the blade is turning, pour the olive oil into the food processor.
  4. In a large skillet, melt butter and stir in flour.
  5. Slowly add the milk, making sure the flour dissolves into it. Let it thicken a bit, for about five minutes, and season with salt.
  6. Turn off heat and pour the pesto mixture into the cream sauce. Stir until combined.

I served this sauce over a grilled mushroom agnolotti, made at a wonderful pasta place in my neighbourhood called Pastissima (because I don’t always have time to make everything myself) with a sprinkle of fresh ground pepper and parmesan. It would be a great topper for any pasta, steamed vegetable, chicken or fish.

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