Spaghetti with pesto is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. The fresh zing of garlic at the end of each bite, the ritual of scooping the oil into the ribbons of pasta, cleansing the palette with red wine before going back for more; it’s something familiar no matter where you are.
In Cairo this January, in the midst of the peaceful end of the demonstrations, Mr. Gonzo and I shared a pesto pasta so perfect I easily could have eaten it night after night (we actually ate some pretty fantastic pasta in Jordan, too).
But back to the pesto. For me, it’s a special occasion kind of thing, what with the massive amount of oil, the raw garlic (so not date-night friendly) and the general carb overload that can only lead to one thing: a massive belly.
Wanting to have my belly be described as anything but massive, I decided a figure-friendly pesto was in order. As I mentioned on Monday, I’m cooking from The New Abs Diet Cookbook this month. Their version of pesto was my springboard; I looked to Giada for the landing.
The Abs recipe uses baby spinach as a base, an idea I love since spinach is so healthy, not to mention unexpected in a pesto. But you’re meant to wilt the spinach in a garlic sauté, and I’m not the biggest fan of cooked spinach in any form. And true to the abs, you only use a tablespoon of olive oil, which might be enough if you had the liquid from the wilted spinach to form the pesto’s creamy texture, but since I intended to skip that step, I needed something else.
As my omega-3 pasta burbled away, I had an inspiration: starchy pasta water.
Actually, a light bulb had gone off over my head earlier that day at the market when I threw a lemon into my basket, hoping to work it into the dish somehow. Abs doesn’t call for a lemon, but I knew someone who might: Giada De Laurentiis. I uncovered a spinach pesto recipe of hers that included not just lemon juice, but lemon zest as well. She also skipped the garlic. Love it!
The result is a pesto is so light and delicate you’d never know it’s also good for you. By reducing the oil and creating a smooth mixture with the starchy pasta water, you achieve a pesto-like consistency without the extra fat. This would also work well spooned over fish. Make only what you need; this does not keep well.
And because there’s no garlic in this recipe, it’s perfect for date night. Man, am I good.
Gluten-free update: Use your favorite gluten-free pasta in this recipe. If you haven’t had luck with gluten-free pasta, see this post at Gluten-Free Girl for making a perfect pot of gluten-free pasta.
8 ounces gluten-free spaghetti
2 cups baby spinach leaves
½ cup walnuts or pine nuts
2 teaspoons lemon zest (one medium lemon for this ingredient and next)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ cup reserved pasta water
Pinch of kosher salt
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan (optional)
1. Cook the pasta according to package instructions. As the pasta is boiling, carefully scoop out ½ cup of the pasta water. Reserve.
2. Add the spinach leaves, walnuts, lemon zest and lemon juice to the bowl of your food processor; pulse lightly.
3. With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil.
4. Add the reserved pasta water, a tablespoon at a time, until the pesto is creamy.
5. Add a pinch of salt. Taste and season if needed.
6. Stir over the drained pasta and serve with freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.