I absolutely love pesto and this fast, healthy, weeknight winter version does not disappoint. With fluffy ricotta and delicate spinach, spinach and ricotta pesto pasta with roasted cauliflower is a fantastic meal for those end of winter nights when you are craving summer foods but the farmer’s market just won’t cooperate.
Let’s talk about the weather, shall we? I swear I haven’t run out of things to say to y’all (and am therefore resorting to talking about the weather)…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. In addition to this spring-like weather making me cheerier than I’ve been in weeks, it’s also put me in the mood for warm-weather foods, like pesto.
Naturally, there wasn’t a single basil leaf to be found at the local markets (because it is still winter, regardless of what the thermometer says) so I had to get creative. Tender baby spinach is abundant so I grabbed a few bunches and (literally) whipped up this seasonally appropriate winter spinach and ricotta pesto. 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 portion and the result is downright heavenly. This 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.
Winter Spinach and Ricotta Pesto Recipe Notes
Like most of the stuff I share with you, this recipe is highly customizable to your preferences and palette. I do, however, 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, 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.
This winter 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. As I said above, cauliflower was divine and was perfect for making this dish feel meaty and substantial. Sauteed 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 little extra protein.
Winter Spinach and Ricotta 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 kosher salt
- 1 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1/4 - 1/3 c olive oil
Make It A Meal
- 1/2 lb whole wheat pasta
- 1 tbsp avocado oil
- 1 head cauliflower cut into bite-sized florets
- shaved parmesan for serving
- chopped chives for serving
Cook the pasta per package instructions.
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 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.