I’m on a mission to 1) sneak spinach into everything. 2) take my spinach+chilli+cheese combo and apply it to as many variations as I can possibly think up. Cheese in question for said combo is usually paneer, but this is a slightly different take on it. I say ‘sneak’, but we actually love spinach. But for those of you that don’t, this is a sure shot way of upping your greens intake in the best possible way – you don’t taste the spinach in it at all. The basil overpowers, but that’s a good thing here. Spinach make an appearance for its nutritional benefits and to bulk up the pesto a bit. (Note: a lot of people use Thai basil and Italian basil interchangeably; I’m not a fan of this and find that this changes up the flavours altogether. To clarify, this is Italian basil).
The roasted tomatoes sound like a bit of a faff, but they work really well to round off the flavours. We chop them up into bite-sized pieces so they cook faster, and so you get a piece with every forkful of pasta. Their concentrated sourness is a nice contrast to that rich, fragrant pesto. If you happen to have some sun-dried tomatoes lying around, by all means use those. The green chillies add a nice background kick here, and that’s the way I like it. This is entirely based on your preference/spice tolerance, so add a few more in if you’d like to bring that heat to the foreground.
The pesto couldn’t be simpler: you wilt the spinach in a pan and squeeze out the excess moisture from it. Then add the rest of the ingredients and whazz it all up. There’s your near-instant sauce! I like to keep it slightly coarser here for texture, but this is entirely up to you. Go smooth if you prefer. Fresh or frozen spinach both work, and (of course) I would definitely recommend making more than you immediately need: keep some in the fridge topped with a thin layer of oil if you plan to use it in the foreseeable future (works brilliantly as a sandwich spread too!) If not, squirrel it away in the freezer for another day.
PASTA WITH SPINACH & CHILLI PESTO + QUICK ROASTED TOMATOES
- 200 grams spaghetti (or other pasta of choice)
- 2 tomatoes
- 1 tsp olive oil
- A few basil leaves, to serve
- Salt, to taste
- 150 grams spinach, fresh of frozen
- 100 grams Italian basil
- ¼ cup cashews
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 green chillies, or to taste
- 40 grams Parmesan cheese
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- Salt, to taste
- Preheat the oven to 180 C. Chop the tomatoes into bite-sized pieces. Toss with 1 tsp olive oil and salt. Lay them out without overlaps on a baking tray and roast for 35-40 mins. Set aside.
- Cook the pasta according to packet instructions. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking liquid, then drain and set aside.
- Pesto: add the spinach to a pan and move it around until it just starts to wilt - about 3 mins (same treatment for frozen spinach). Squeeze out the excess moisture in a colander or with your hands.
- Add the spinach to a blender jar along with green chillies, cashews, basil, garlic, Parmesan, and salt. Coarsely blitz, stopping to scrape down the sides a few times.
- Once it’s a coarse paste, add lemon juice and olive oil and blitz again to get it to the consistency you like. If it appears too dry, add a touch of water to loosen. Taste and adjust seasoning/spice levels. Blend in a bit more chilli at this stage if you like.
- Toss the pasta with the pesto, tomatoes, and a few basil leaves. If it feels too dry, add a bit of the reserved cooking liquid to loosen. Serve immediately.
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