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
- In a food processor, pulse together the garlic, toasted pumpkin seeds and spinach until finely chopped.
- Add the lemon juice, parmesan and pepper. Combine briefly.
- While the blade is turning, pour the olive oil into the food processor.
- In a large skillet, melt butter and stir in flour.
- Slowly add the milk, making sure the flour dissolves into it. Let it thicken a bit, for about five minutes, and season with salt.
- 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.