There are many days when I really feel like cooking something amazing, but I refuse to go to the store. So that means turning my kitchen into my own episode of Chopped and crafting a recipe out of limited – and sometimes seemingly unconnected – ingredients. I’m not sure how long I spent this time walking in circles around my kitchen, peeking into my cabinets and fridge, until I was ready to give up.
Then at the last second, when I took my tenth look at a bag of walnuts in the pantry, it hit me: pesto.
You don’t have to like walnuts to like walnut pesto. Turning anything into pesto creates a completely different flavor and textural experience. Not to mention, this isn’t just any pesto; it’s Creamy Toasted Walnut & Spinach Pesto.
I’d describe this recipe as pure magic. You wind up with a sauce that’s as thick and creamy as a mac and cheese, yet we make it in 15 minutes with no roux and no fuss. Here’s the breakdown: we create a basic pesto by blending up flavorful toasted walnuts with fresh spinach, garlic, a little parmesan and olive oil until nice and smooth. Then we stir in a smidgen of cream, and it magically morphs into a thick and rich sauce that perfectly coats every noodle.
Walnuts hold onto a lot of buttery richness and good fats, so when we toast them and then grind them up, we release all that good stuff to create unique but indulgent flavor. You won’t get that anywhere else, not from butter or cheese. However, the freshness of the spinach lets us cut some of that richness for the perfect balance.
Who knew you could create something so comforting in such little time? I’m guilty of associating comfort food with casseroles and soups that take hours, but this sauce only takes minutes. That’s why pesto is such an underrated weapon to have in your arsenal. It’s so good, and it sounds so fancy. “Oh, I made my own pesto today because I’m super sophisticated and stuff.”
Listen, you don’t need to be an esteemed chef on Chopped to whip this up tonight. It’s fresh, it’s different, and it’s colorful like the spring we’re all so desperately awaiting. You can pretend you’re on your own cooking show while you make this if you like, but remember it’s your show and your rules.
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- You can take the flavor of this pesto one step farther by roasting the garlic.
- This pesto would also be delicious tossed with veggies.
- If you don’t have a food processor, you can probably make a blender work.
- Toasting the walnuts brings out a unique flavor you won’t get when they’re raw.
- Add some red pepper flakes if you’d like a little heat.
Creamy Toasted Walnut & Spinach Pesto
By The Smart Cookie Cook
- 1 lb. pasta, boiled
- 2 cups whole raw walnuts
- 2 cloves fresh garlic
- 2 generous cups fresh spinach
- ¼ cup shredded parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
- 5 tbsp. olive oil
- ¼ tsp. salt
- 1/8 tsp. pepper
- 5 tbsp. heavy cream
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lay walnuts in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake for 6 minutes, or until fragrant. Let cool.
- Place garlic, walnuts, and spinach in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add cheese and pulse a few times more.
- Stream in olive oil while pulsing until smooth and well-combined. Mix in salt and pepper.
- Fold pesto into pasta in a medium pot over medium heat. Mix in cream until well-combined and let cook until warm. Serve with more cheese and enjoy.