This spinach pesto is very similar to traditional pesto recipes with only a couple minor tweaks. One major addition is spinach! Adding spinach is cost-effective and adds so many nutrients. You’re sure to love this fresh and vibrant spinach pesto. It can be included in many heart-healthy diets including the Mediterranean diet and DASH diet.
Try some of the many suggested uses and variations for this versatile spinach pesto recipe. And if you’d be so kind, don’t forget to leave me a comment below if you liked it!
What’s In Traditional Pesto?
Traditional basil pesto from Italy is made using fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil.
Since basil can be quite expensive (and let’s be honest, it doesn’t last long without wilting), using spinach for part of the basil in this recipe is a great way to cut costs while also upping the nutritional value.
Can You Make Pesto With Spinach?
Absolutely! This recipe uses spinach as its main ingredient. It makes for an extremely fresh and vibrant condiment, sauce, or accompaniment to many different dishes.
This spinach pesto recipe still uses a small amount of basil which gives it another fresh dimension of flavor that resembles traditional pesto.
Health Benefits of Spinach Pesto
Spinach is the main component of this healthy pesto recipe. It’s a green, leafy vegetable that is known for its health benefits.
Some of the most health-promoting bioactive components in spinach include vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, lutein, zeaxanthin, and many other phytonutrients and phenolic compounds.
This is why spinach and other dark, leafy greens are often described as “superfoods”. Their active ingredients help promote human health by decreasing inflammation and protecting against free radicals which studies show benefits heart health, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and age-related disorders.
Garlic, basil, olive oil, and pine nuts also have their own set of benefits.
For example, basil contains nutrients like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, calcium, phosphorus, and beta-carotene. And olive oil is a heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that is used daily in the Mediterranean diet. Studies show that olive oil consumption lowers your risk of heart disease and decreases premature death by lowering your “bad” LDL cholesterol and helping raise “good” HDL cholesterol.
Related article: Mediterranean Diet For Beginners (Get Started Today!)
Baby spinach: you can also use regular spinach though I like the delicate texture and flavor of baby spinach. It also conveniently comes in pre-washed, ready-to-use packages.
Fresh basil: make sure your basil is fresh. The best pesto comes from young basil leaves and if you’ve ever bought basil from the grocery store, you know they’re not likely young or fresh. Basil is very delicate so use it within a day or two. If you can get your hands on fresh basil from a farmer’s market or from your own garden…perfecto!
Pine nuts: this is the nut of choice for traditional pesto recipes. It gives a nutty and earthy flavor to the spinach pesto. For some less costly options, see the “Variations” section below.
Garlic: you cannot make homemade spinach pesto without fresh garlic. If you aren’t a fan of super garlickly sauces, I suggest reducing the amount of garlic in this recipe. It’s VERY garlicky. 😋
Parmesan cheese: the addition of parmesan gives a slightly nutty and sharp flavor. It also adds some salt, so if you follow a low-sodium diet, you can reduce the amount of parmesan or leave out the salt in this recipe.
Lemon juice: a little bit of lemon juice adds some zip to this spinach basil pesto.
Salt and Pepper: use just enough to season here. I wanted to keep this recipe lower in sodium. If you are following a strict low -sodium diet, you can cut back on this further or omit it. FYI, leaving out the salt completely will reduce the sodium amount to 14 mg per 2 tablespoon serving!
Olive oil: a staple of the Mediterranean and the oil of choice in all heart-healthy diets. Good olive oil is a necessity and is the last step in bringing this spinach pesto recipe together.
How to Make Spinach Pesto
Follow these steps and you’ll end up with a fresh and bold pesto with spinach and basil.
Step 1: Toast the Pine Nuts
This step is completely optional, however will lead to a better tasting end result in my opinion.
To toast your pine nuts, place them in a small pan on the stove over medium-low heat. Stir your pine nuts constantly until they become fragrant and lightly brown, but not burnt. This step is very quick and will only take about 3-5 minutes.
Step 2: Process Ingredients
Next, place the spinach, basil, toasted pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese, lemon juice, salt, and pepper into your food processor. Save the olive oil for the last step.
Pulse these ingredients several times until everything is finely chopped (see photo #2 below).
Step 3: Add the Olive Oil
During bursts of pulsing, add the extra virgin olive oil to the food processor and pulse until everything is combined. The ingredients will look minced when complete.
I recommend scraping down the sides of your processor a couple times to make sure everything is the same consistency.
Step 3: Store or Use As Desired
Now your spinach pesto recipe is complete and ready to use or store for later. Enjoy!
Storing Your Spinach Pesto
After you’re done making this spinach pesto recipe, make sure to store it properly so it doesn’t go to waste. All you need is an airtight container to place it in. Then store it in your refrigerator for up to one week.
If you prefer to freeze your pesto, an ice cube tray works great! Just add small amounts of pesto into each section of an ice cube tray and freeze for a few hours. After they are frozen, place the cubes in a freezer bag until you’re ready to use them. They will keep frozen for up to 2-3 months.
Tips and Tricks
To get the best-tasting and most flavorful spinach and basil pesto, I have a few tips and tricks that might help.
- Keep ingredients fresh: make sure you store and use your ingredients when they are at their peak of freshness. You won’t end up with a tasty pesto if using wilted or brown basil in a homemade pesto recipe. For tips on how to keep basil fresh, see the FAQ below.
- Optional toasting: if you want to save time and still have a superb spinach basil pesto, skip toasting the pine nuts.
- Don’t over-process: Do not over-pulse your pesto or you may end up with pesto puree. While this will still taste good and can be used as a sauce, traditional pesto consistency is normally chunkier.
- Adjust herbs and spices as needed: this recipe has a strong garlic taste to it. If you’re not a fan of garlic, you can use less, or maybe try 1/4 teaspoon of garlic powder instead which will not be as pungent as fresh garlic.
Add some spice: to add a little extra spice, you can add a small amount of red pepper flakes or ground cayenne pepper.
Try other greens: substitute other greens such as arugula or kale in place of the spinach for a different take on this spinach pesto recipe.
Use different nuts: pine nuts might be difficult to locate or more expensive than other nuts. I suggest trying walnuts or almonds instead. Hint: walnuts would be my choice; they add heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids!
Make it nut-free: try using unsalted sunflower seeds or raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas) as a substitute for the pine nuts.
Make it vegan: to make this a vegan spinach pest recipe, leave out the parmesan cheese or use a vegan parmesan substitute.
Ways to Use Spinach Pesto
This spinach basil pesto is incredibly versatile. There are so many ways you can use it. Here are a few of my favorites:
- As a layer in grilled cheese
- As the sauce in pizza- try spinach pesto pizza using grilled chicken and mozzarella.
- Spread on sandwiches instead of mayo
- Use in cold pasta salads
- Drizzle over meats such as steak or chicken
- Use in hot pasta dishes lasagna or ravioli
- Mix into whipped feta or ricotta as a pesto dip
- Use as a pesto sauce for roasted potatoes or other veggies
- As a dip for bread or crackers
- Mixed into egg or tofu scramble for breakfast
- As a beautiful garnish for Italian dishes
No. I do not recommend using frozen (or canned) spinach because you will end up with a mushy, wilted, wet pesto. Fresh spinach is a necessity in this recipe.
Homemade spinach pesto will last in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.
Pesto may turn brown if it is exposed to the air. This is from oxidation. To prevent this, store your pesto covered in an airtight container after drizzling it with a light layer of olive oil.
If you’re not going to make this recipe right away, wash your basil and place it carefully between a damp kitchen towel or paper towels in the fridge. If using fresh basil, snip the stems and place them in a cup of water in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use.
Looking for more Mediterranean diet recipes?🔎
- Mediterranean Quinoa Salad
- Mediterranean Diet Oatmeal (With Bonus Oats Review)
- Roasted Vegetable Medley
- Kale Salad With Tahini Dressing
- Best Kale Salad Ever!
How about tips to get started on a Mediterranean diet?
Spinach Pesto Recipe
- 1 Food Processor
- 6 oz. baby spinach
- 5 oz. basil fresh
- ½ cup pine nuts toasted
- ½ cup parmesan cheese grated
- 1 Tbsp lemon juice (or juice from ½ lemon)
- ½ tsp salt optional
- ½ tsp black pepper optional
- ½ cup olive oil extra virgin
- Gather all ingredients and start by toasting your pine nuts. Place pine nuts in a dry pan over medium heat on the stove. Stir constantly for 3-5 minutes or until pine nuts become fragrant and lightly toasted. Be careful not to burn them.
- Place all ingredients except olive oil in your food processor. Pulse several times until ingredients are roughly chopped.
- Add the olive oil slowly in between pulses. Stop pulsing once all ingredients are combined. The consistency should appear minced throughout.
- Store for later use or use as desired.
- Make sure to store your basil properly until ready to use. Basil is a delicate herb that wilts quickly once picked.
- Adjust the amount of garlic, salt, and pepper per your preference.
- Toasting the pine nuts is completely optional, use raw pine nuts to save time.
- For a vegan spinach pesto, omit the parmesan cheese or use vegan parmesan.
- Don’t over-pulse in the food processor. You want the ingredients to still have some consistency- think minced to finely chopped.
Share with me: Do you like pesto? Did you try this spinach pesto recipe? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Leave me a comment below! 🥰
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Kiran Campbell is a registered dietitian and entrepreneur with 14 years of experience. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and is a proud member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Cardiovascular Health and Well-being Dietetics Practice Group. Kiran proudly presents and promotes the most up-to-date, science-based nutrition information on all things heart-related. She aims to serve not only individuals with heart disease, but also those wanting to protect against it. Learn more about Kiran by visiting her About Page.