This spinach pesto with tangy ricotta cheese is an easy, nutritious, and super satisfying vegetarian winter pasta recipe. The spinach and ricotta pesto takes just minutes to make, and pairs perfectly with nutty, pan-roasted cauliflower florets and hearty whole grain pasta. You’ll turn to this addictive recipe all winter long!
Let’s talk about the weather, shall we? I swear I haven’t run out of things to say to y’all…but in all seriousness, let’s go there.
It’s been gorgeous here in the DC area and it feels more like April than early February. Groundhog say what? If this is what another six weeks of winter is going to feel like, sign me up.
This spring-like weather has made me cheerier than I’ve been in weeks, and it’s also put me in the mood for warm-weather foods, like pesto. Who doesn’t love tangy, salty, herby pesto?
Naturally, there wasn’t a single basil leaf to be found at the local markets (because it is, in fact, still winter – regardless of what the thermometer says). So I had to get creative. But that’s why y’all come here, right? Right.
Tender baby spinach is abundant so I grabbed a few bunches and (literally) whipped up this seasonally appropriate winter spinach pesto with ricotta and toasted walnuts. It’s so good that Cameron and I were eating it by the spoonful. Even the Pickiest Child on Earth declared it tasty.
On a whim, I tossed in some pan-roasted cauliflower to round out the veggie profile and the result is downright heavenly. This easy pasta recipe came together in less than 30 minutes with leftovers to spare.
Healthy, fast, seasonal, and kid-friendly? I think my job is done here, friends.
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Spinach Pesto with Ricotta and Walnuts Recipe Notes
Like most of the stuff I share with you, this recipe is highly customizable to your preferences and palette.
That being said, I’m going to insist that you keep the ricotta – it lends a light, airy texture that isn’t typical of standard pestos. It’s particularly good at balancing out a heartier green.
Speaking of greens, try any winter green in place of spinach – kale and chard are natural substitutions. For a bolder approach, experiment with mustard or even radish greens (although both are on the peppery spectrum, so perhaps consider blending them with spinach for balance).
I like a meaty nut for this recipe and went with walnuts, but cashews would be terrific.
I blended the spinach pesto in my trusty Ninja Blender and it came out perfectly smooth and creamy. You could also use a food processor. Be liberal with your blending – you want the ingredients completely pulverized for a lush and rich winter pesto.
I used whole wheat rotini pasta as the base for this winter pasta recipe. Nutty whole wheat pasta is a great flavor match to tender, bright spinach pesto, and the rotini spirals suck up every last bit of sauce.
This spinach and ricotta pesto doesn’t necessarily need a companion other than pasta, but if you want more veggies in your gullet, then add away. I did it, and you can too.
Pan roasted cauliflower is fast and easy to prepare, and it made the final pasta meaty and substantial. Sautéed mushrooms, pan-roasted radishes, and steamed broccoli are also excellent choices. Toss in a few ounces of roasted chicken or salmon if you need a kick of extra protein.
More Pesto Recipes on Our Salty Kitchen >>
This parsley pesto is literal awesome-sauce. It’s fresh, tangy and bright, and my go-to winter pesto recipe for grilled protein, roasted potatoes or vegetables, and so much more. Best of all, it’s ready in just 10 minutes.
My tarragon pesto recipe is aromatic, sweet, and mildly peppery. I love it over zoodles, but it’s also perfect with grilled chicken, as a tangy salad dressing, or drizzled over roasted potatoes.
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Winter Spinach Pesto with Rotini and Roasted Cauiflower
This winter spinach pesto with tangy ricotta cheese is an easy, nutritious, and super satisfying vegetarian winter pesto recipe. It pairs perfectly with nutty, pan-roasted cauliflower florets and hearty whole grain rotini.
Winter Spinach Pesto
- 5 oz spinach or other winter greens
- 1/2 c ricotta
- 1/3 cup walnuts
- 1/2 lemon juiced
- 4 garlic cloves smashed
- 1 tsp sea or kosher salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/4 - 1/3 c olive oil
Fill a large pot with 3-4 quarts of water. Place over the burner, add 1 tbsp salt, and bring to a boil. Once the water boils, add the whole wheat rotini and cook to al dente according to package instructions. Strain the pasta, then return to the pot.
While the pasta water is coming to a boil, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the cauliflower and a pinch of sea salt and toss in the fat until evenly coated. Pan-sear the cauliflower over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until browned and caramelized, 12-18 minutes, depending on floret size.
- While the cauliflower and pasta are cooking, make the pesto. Put the spinach, ricotta, walnuts, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper into a blender or food processor. Pulse a few times until the ingredients are finely diced and incorporated. Then, with the blade running, slowly add the olive oil until the pesto comes together. Add less for a chunkier consistency, more for a smoother version.
- Toss the cooked pasta with the roasted cauliflower and pesto sauce. Top with fresh parmesan and chives to taste and serve immediately.
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