Arugula-spinach pesto is vibrant, delicious, and very easy to make. It goes wonderfully with pasta, but also on salads, meats, as a dipping sauce, or as a garnish for soups. This recipe makes more pesto than you need so that you can freeze the extras!
Arugula-Spinach Pesto: a spring-y sauce
Nothing says "SPRING" like a gorgeous, vibrant dish of pasta with pesto. Since Wisconsin hasn't quite convinced itself that it's spring yet and the weather has been cold and dreary, a dish like this goes a long way to elevate my stir-crazy, generally annoyed mood.
This Arugula-Spinach Pesto with Shrimp came about because I bought one of those containers with an organic mix of spring greens (baby arugula and spinach) and...well...I always have the best intentions when I buy these salad greens: a fussy salad involving strawberries and bacon, for example. I kid. But for whatever reason, I always seem to find myself up against the "use by" date with no particular game plan for using my mixed greens. I hate wasting food, though, so, in a stroke of inspiration, I realized that arugula-spinach pesto would be a perfect way to use them up.
My usual pesto involves basil and parsley, but just about any combination of herbs or greens will do. Arugula has a slightly more aggressive, peppery flavor that is delightful when cut with a more neutral green like spinach. Pesto is, in general, a super-easy sauce that's great on pastas, salads, as a dip for breads or a garnish for soups—and on and on. The food processor does most of the work, apart from toasting the pine nuts and prepping the greens. Other than that, this meal is a simple matter of boiling some pasta and sautéeing the shrimp.
For my my arugula-spinach pesto variation, I toasted the garlic in its skin along with the pine nuts to infuse the sauce even more roasty flavor. I also threw in a pinch of pepper flake for just a hit of spice, though this is completely optional.
Arugula-Spinach Pesto with Shrimp comes together very quickly: I start boiling the water for the pasta while I'm prepping the shrimp and greens and toasting the pine nuts and garlic. I drop the pasta when I start putting the sauce together in my food processor. Then, during the last five minutes of cook time for the pasta, I start cooking the shrimp. Then it's a simple matter of draining and dressing the pasta with the gorgeous arugula-spinach pesto.
One note about arugula-spinach pesto: as I mentioned, arugula is a more aggressive flavor than parsley or spinach, the traditional herbs used for making pesto. This becomes especially true if it's not fresh: arugula tends to take on a bitter flavor as it gets older. With this in mind, reserve about half of your arugula and make your pesto like you normally would. Then taste it: make sure that the arugula flavor isn't too strong. If it's all good and could use another dose of herbiness, you can add the remaining arugula. If it tastes great the way it is, leave it alone!
I like keeping extra pesto in the freezer to pull out during the long Wisconsin winter months to remind me what spring looks like. Although it's somewhat high in calories because of the olive oil and pine nuts, it's unsaturated fat—and the sauce is loaded with veggie goodness. Arugula-spinach pesto with shrimp is a new favorite with the hubster AND kids (amazing!). I hope your family will enjoy it as much as we do.
FOR THE PESTO
- 4 packed cups (in total) baby arugula* and spinach
- 3 cloves garlic, (in their skins)
- ½ cup pine nuts
- 1 pinch pepper flakes, (optional)
- 1 cup best-quality extra virgin olive oil
- plus ¼ cup more, (keep divided)
- ½ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
- salt and pepper
FOR THE SHRIMP
- 1 lb. medium shrimp,, peeled, deveined, and cleaned
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 1 tsp. paprika
- ½ tsp. finely crushed Italian herbs
- ¼ tsp. salt
- ⅛ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
FOR THE PESTO
- Set a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Toast the garlic cloves until their skin begins to darken on one side. Turn the cloves and repeat on the other sides.
- Remove the garlic cloves and set aside. Reduce the heat to low and add the pine nuts. Toast until golden-brown, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, peel and trim the garlic cloves.
- Place the mixed greens, garlic, pine nuts, and pepper flakes (if using) in a food processor; pulse to coarsely chop. Process the mixture while drizzling in 1 cup of the olive oil; continue processing until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- FOR FREEZING: divide the pesto into dinner-sized portions, place in freezer bags, and top with olive oil to cover. Roll the bags carefully to squeeze out as much air as possible. I like to put the small freezer bags into a large, labeled freezer bag. When you thaw out a portion (running hot water over the bottom of the bag is enough!), mix the contents of the bag and stir in some grated pecorino.
- FOR IMMEDIATE USE: add in the remaining oil and stir in the cheese. Toss with your favorite pasta.
FOR THE SHRIMP AND PASTA
- Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions.
- Meanwhile, dry the shrimp well with paper towels. Mix the herbs and spices for the shrimp. Season both sides of the shrimp with the herb and spice mixture. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted and begins to foam, add the shrimp, spacing them evenly in the pan. Watch for the shrimp to begin curling up, about 1 minute. Flip the shrimp, turn off the burner, and cover the skillet, allowing the shrimp to finish cooking in the residual heat. You'll know they're done when the tails are pink and the flesh is opaque and slightly white (bright white is overcooked!). If you grab a fully cooked shrimp by the tail, dangle it downward, and push down on the curled-up head-end of the shrimp, it should spring right back into its curly shape.
- Drain the pasta well and toss it with the pesto. Serve topped with the shrimp and grated Parmesan cheese.
Since arugula can be a more aggressive flavor than many people are used to in pesto, I suggest keeping back about half of it (so one cup of arugula) and proceeding with the recipe. Taste it when it's all processed: if it needs more herby flavor, you can add the rest of the arugula. If it tastes perfect as it is, leave it alone!
Nutrition Information:Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1 grams
Amount Per Serving: Unsaturated Fat: 0g
|Pesto-Shrimp Cavatappi: a bright, easy sauce with basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, and olive oil. Freezes well for an easy meal anytime.