Pesto was a staple in our household growing up. I had a love for garlic at an early age and there was no better dinner than linguine with pesto.
My dad is a pesto purist, as you can read on his verbose website entry on the matter. I followed in my dad’s footsteps – basil and pine nuts was the ONLY way – until I started paying my own bills and realizing how expensive pine nuts and real Parmesan cheese are.
Years ago I started using pistachios instead of pine nuts for my basil-only pesto recipe, which I had adapted from Marcella Hazan’s blender pesto. I really can’t tell the difference. I realized last year that I’m not alone with this thought. Maya Wilson of Alaska From Scratch also uses pistachios instead of pine nuts for her pesto recipe.
Then last summer, Julia O’Malley invited me over to test out an Alaska greens super pesto. It was then that I realized you don’t have to stick to only fresh basil to achieve that delicious pesto-y flavor.
Enter the giant Costco bag of spinach. You know the one – it’s like $4 and you tell yourself you’re totally going to get through the whole thing before it gets slimy? My husband fell for it again this week and bought the gigantic bag of greens and it’s my mission to get through it before it goes bad.
Last night I decided to try pesto using what I had on hand: a giant bag of spinach, pistachios, pecorino Romano cheese, lemon and the other usual pesto cast of characters. What I discovered is basil doesn’t matter a bit to me when it comes to pesto. It’s the garlic, cheese and olive oil that my tastebuds crave.
This recipe was everything I wanted and so much cheaper than the recipe I grew up with. Adding melted butter makes up for the oils in the pine nuts that the pistachios lack. And including fresh lemon juice brightens up the pesto in a similar way the basil does.
I eyeballed all the ingredients, but this is a good place to start. Follow your tastebuds. If the mixture is too thick, add more olive oil. If it doesn’t have enough bite, add some more lemon juice or salt. If it’s too thin, add more cheese. You could also reserve some of the pasta water to thin out the sauce.
Spinach and Pistachio Pesto – a less expensive way to enjoy pesto bliss
Enough sauce for 3-4 servings
- 1/4 cup shelled pistachios
- 1/3 cup good olive oil (plus more if needed)
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 2 big handfuls fresh spinach, coarsely chopped (about 3.5-4 oz.)
- 3/4 cups pecorino Romano cheese, grated
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon melted butter, cooled
- salt and pepper to taste
In a small food processor or blender, purée the pistachios, olive oil and garlic until smooth. Add in the spinach and blend until everything is evenly blended – about 20-30 seconds.
Place contents into a medium mixing bowl and add the cheese, lemon juice and butter. Stir until well combined. Season with salt and pepper. If pesto is too thin, add more cheese. If it’s too thick, add more olive oil. Serve with long thin pasta cooked al dente.