When I first created this spinach pesto pasta recipe I thought I was going to need a pound of pasta to be sauced by the nearly half pound of spinach I was blending. But alas… I always underestimate spinach’s ability to reduce down to an infinitesimal volume. This is actually a good thing because this approximately 4-serving recipe is packed with a whopping 6 cups of spinach and perfect for anyone who wants to increase the volume of greens in his/her diet.
There’s no denying the deliciousness of classic pesto. But I take my pesto in a different direction these days, for a couple of reasons… the obvious one being cheese. And the second one being the high quantity of oil in most pesto recipes. That doesn’t sit well with my stomach, so I came up with my own vegan spins on pesto with more balanced amounts of fat and added nutrition from vegetables.
Nonetheless, to coat the pasta to my liking I still make sure to keep some richness in there and in this vegan spinach pesto recipe that richness comes from raw cashews, which make for a very buttery texture, and a splash of nondairy milk (which also helps for blending all of that spinach down). Season with plenty of salt and pepper, brighten with lemon juice, and fold in some nicely browned onions and garlic, and you’ll never miss the cheese or the large quantity of olive oil!
You might already have everything except the spinach and cashews on hand to make this vegan pesto pasta. Okay, if you’re a hardcore vegan you might have the cashews too. Enjoy!
Here is how to make it:
- ½ cup raw cashews (you could also try toasted pine nuts, walnuts, etc.)
- about 6 cups loosely packed spinach (6 oz.)
- 1 small bunch basil (0.75 oz.), thick stems removed
- ¼ cup plain, unsweetened nondairy milk (this is pretty much the only nondairy milk that I use)
- juice of ½ lemon (plus to taste)
- scant ½ teaspoon salt
- pepper, to taste
- 8 oz. pasta of choice (I used shells)
- 1 tsp. olive oil
- ½ yellow onion, or 1 shallot, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup reserved pasta water
- Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil, and cook your pasta according to package directions. Drain it, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water. Do not rinse.
- Add the cashews to your food processor and pulse a few times until crumbled.
- Add the spinach, basil, nondairy milk, lemon juice, salt, and pepper, and continue to pulse, stopping to stir and scrape the sides if needed, until the spinach and basil are finely chopped.
- Add more lemon juice to taste if desired, and set aside.
- In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion or shallot and a sprinkle of salt. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened and browning slightly.
- Add the garlic and cook for just about 60 seconds more, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant.
- Add the cooked pasta, reserved pasta water, and pesto and fold everything together gently. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened slightly and clings to the pasta, and is warm throughout. Remove from the heat and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm. The pasta is best eaten immediately; fold in a light drizzle of olive oil before storing leftovers and keep in the fridge for up to 3 days.