Presto Pesto Pasta

Pesto is one of my favorite things, but it can be expensive to make.  I used to have giant basil plants in my backyard (when I had a backyard), but now that I live in an apartment (and my container basil plants died), I have come up with some other solutions to make pesto on a budget.

1). My local farmer’s market had huge bunches of basil for only $1 a piece last week.  Buying local produce in season is almost always cheaper.

2).  Pesto freezes really well.  Make a big batch during the summer bounty and then freeze some for winter.  I had a friend whose mom used to freeze it in ice cube trays, making it nice and easy to re-heat as much or as little as we wanted.

3).  When you don’t have access to a whole bunch of nice, fresh, seasonal, cheap-o basil, buy the expensive little clam-shell container at the grocery store and then supplement it with fresh baby spinach.  It will still be delicious and extra nutritious too.

4).  Trader Joe’s has cheap pine nuts.  If you can’t make it to a Trader Joe’s or you want to save even more money, you can substitute any type of nuts.  Walnuts and almonds both work really well.  I haven’t tried raw sunflower seeds yet, but I bet those would be good.

Now here is my recipe for Presto Pesto Pasta:

Boil water for pasta.  Meanwhile, throw the following into your food processor or blender and process until smooth:

  • 2 cups baby spinach (tightly packed)
  • 1 handful fresh basil
  • 4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts (or other nuts)
  • 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional: a good substitute for Parmesan cheese and a source of vitamin B12, usually available in the bulk section of health-food stores)
  • salt/pepper to taste

You can make the pesto ahead of time if you prefer.  In fact, it is better to give the flavors time to “marry.”

Also meanwhile, sautee:

  • 1/2 pound sliced portabello or cremini mushrooms in
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil.

When your water comes to a boil add:

  • 1 pound rotini (or any short pasta: gemelli, ziti, or orecchiti would all be good).

Toss the pasta with the mushrooms and pesto.  Before serving, sprinkle with:

  • sliced sun-dried tomatoes (or roasted cherry tomatoes would be nice).  This was Kate’s idea.  Or possibly Erin’s.  One of the two.  Either way, bravo, girls.  It really adds an extra dimension.

You can also garnish with extra pine nuts and/or basil.  In fact, feel free to add anything else you like.  Artichoke hearts or olives would be good in this.

  • 2 cups baby spinach: $1.00 (at farmer’s market)
  • 1 handful fresh basil: $0.25 (at farmer’s market)
  • 5 garlic cloves: $0.25 (at farmer’s market)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts: $1.99 (at Trader Joe’s) + extra for garnish = another $1
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil: $0.25 (at TJ’s)
  • juice of 1 lemon: $0.33 (at TJ’s)
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast: $0.50 (at local health-food store)
  • 1/2 pound cremini mushrooms: $1.99 (at TJ’s)
  • Pasta: $1.99 (at TJ’s)
  • Sun-dried tomatoes: $1.99 (at TJ’s)

=$11.54/6 generous servings = $1.92/serving

Can you imagine how much a big serving of this pasta would cost in a restaurant?

By the way, the leftovers are really good COLD!


2 responses to “Presto Pesto Pasta

  1. Scott Lee Spence

    Hmmm… pesto. By the way substituting parsley and walnuts for basil and pine nuts makes for a nice variation. Taste is definitely different, but good.

  2. Mmmm…that sounds good! I’ll have to try that!

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