Gluten-Free Spinach Pesto Pasta

by Susan on May 20, 2017

Pesto is pretty much one of my most favorite things. When fresh basil is abundant in the summer I make it all the time, adding it to everything from scrambled eggs to roasted potatoes. While traditional pesto is made with fresh basil, pine nuts and Parmesan cheese, there are so many delicious ways to mix it up.

I almost always add spinach to my pesto for a nutritional boost, but it’s actually possible to make pesto without basil at all. It’s perfect this time of year, when the herb isn’t yet at its peak. It’s an easy way to get everyone to eat their spinach without a fuss, and makes for a simple pasta sauce on a busy weeknight.

I adapted this recipe from the Food Network; the original dish called for homemade meatballs made from chicken sausage. I actually made the meal even easier to throw together by using premade Aidell’s chicken sausage meatballs. They’re one of the few prepared meatballs I’ve found that are gluten-free, and the brand uses meat raised without hormones or added nitrites.

Pesto tastes just as good without cheese, so if you’re dairy-free it’s simple to tweak the recipe. You can just omit the Parmesan, or even add 1 tbs. of nutritional yeast if you like a little bit of a cheesy flavor. You could also sub 1 cup of spinach for arugula if you like a little peppery bite to your pesto. Skip the meatballs and it’s still a filling meat-free meal.

I kept the dish gluten-free by using Banza chickpea pasta. It’s a new family favorite, and works particularly well with pesto (I do think the pasta has a mild chickpea flavor that is totally negated by the strong flavors of the pesto).

Gluten-Free Spinach Pesto Pasta
adapted from Food Network

Sea salt
10 oz. gluten-free pasta
4 cups baby spinach
1 tbs. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 tbs. raw walnuts
Grated zest of 1 lemon, plus the juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tbs. grated parmesan cheese, plus more for topping (can omit and use 1 tbs. nutritional yeast)
Freshly ground pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook as the label directs. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking water, then drain.

Meanwhile, pulse 2 cups spinach, 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon each olive oil and nuts, the lemon zest and juice, 1/2 tsp. salt and the red pepper flakes in a food processor until smooth. Scrape down the sides; add the parmesan (or nutritional yeast) and pulse until smooth. Set the pesto aside.

Add meatballs to a large skillet and heat over medium until warm, about 1 minute. Add the pasta, pesto and 1/4 cup reserved cooking water to the skillet. Toss to coat, adding more cooking water as needed; season with salt and pepper. Stir in the remaining 2 cups spinach. Top with parmesan, if using, and the remaining 1 tablespoon nuts; drizzle with olive oil.

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