Winter Pesto with Spinach

An untraditional pesto made with fresh spinach instead of fresh basil, especially suited for winter and other times when basil is expensive or hard to come by.

Fresh & Seasonal, Especially for Winter. Weeknight Easy, Weekend Special. Weight Watchers Friendly. Low Carb. Naturally Gluten Free. Vegetarian. Great for Meal Prep.
Winter Pesto with Spinach ♥, made with spinach, not basil, when fresh basil is expensive or unavailable.

Living (Loving) a Snow-Day Slow Day

On My Mind ♥, life during a snow day

Snow Days. Mid-week, they’re life-slowing brakes that kids crave and grown-ups part-welcome, part-dread.

But if snowy days are good for snowboot and sled sales, snow days can also be gentle reminders of why the place we most want to be is called "home" and how little control, really, we exert in our lives.

So give in. Be with the snow.

Once the flakes begin to transform our familiar neighborhoods into other-worlds, stop, watch, listen.

And as the white mantle muffles and then silences, fill a pot with cider, pull out the Monopoly box, dust off that get-around-to-it-soon novel by the bed. Make soup, bake cookies. If you must, clean the basement, organize a closet.

But for a few hours, a day or two at most, your life belongs to the snow.

Soon enough, it will be yours again. The plow will move through, the drive will need shoveling. And life, again, will move full speed.

So, What Is Pesto, Anyway?

Here's the easy answer, the official answer.

TRADITIONAL pesto is a sauce made with lots of fresh basil, grated Parmesan, pine nuts and olive oil. The texture ranges from loose to a thick paste. Pesto originates in Italy and is often used to dress a plate of pasta or as a dipping sauce for bread slices. It can be easy to make (just whiz it all together in a food processor) but pesto aficionados sweat the details.

How to Make an Untraditional Pesto

Homemade Basil Pesto ♥, extra basil flavor thanks to no cheese, mixing technique.

An untraditional pesto opens up a fun world of taste explorations! With ingredient substitutions, even with omitting key ingredients, you can create something still entirely "pesto" just untraditional.

  • SKIP THE BASIL This Winter Pesto (recipe below) uses spinach instead of basil. It's especially useful when fresh basil is hard to find and comes in small, pricey packages which, at least in my world, is nine months out of the year! But how about Arugula Pesto?
  • SKIP THE CHEESE ENTIRELY My Homemade Fresh Basil Pesto (pictured above) is made without cheese, unleashing the sweet, fresh basil flavors.
  • SKIP THE PINE NUTS Homemade Fresh Basil Pesto Without Cheese also skips the pine nuts which are super-expensive and go rancid quickly. My favorite substitutes are toasted walnuts (still pretty pricey) and especially sunflower seeds (cheap!).
  • SKIP THE OLIVE OIL You can even leave out the olive oil! The ruby-colored Beet Pesto, for example, uses no oil at all!

What to Make with Pesto, Traditional or Untraditional

Winter Pesto with Spinach ♥, made with spinach, not basil, when fresh basil is expensive or unavailable.

Winter Pesto is a natural with hot pasta. But how about as a pizza topping? Or smeared on steaks sizzled on the grill? Or stirred into scrambled eggs? Or spooned into vegetable soup? Or spread thin on nutty toast? Or tossed with roasted cauliflower? The list is as long as your imagination!

Usually, I make pesto to use for a particular meal or a particular recipe. After that? It's easy to use up the leftovers, very handy to have on hand. It should be used up within a couple of days.

Here are some ideas!

  • Just toss with hot pasta, wondrous!
  • Toss with hot vegetables, start with Cabbage with Winter Pesto but move onto broccoli, cauliflower and eggplant.
  • Cut a French baguette or Italian loaf in thin slices, swipe in a pool of pesto in a shallow plate.
  • Spread on a pizza crust as a substitute for tomato sauce or even drizzle just a touch on top.

Just updated! First published way back in 2006.


Hands-on time: 20 minutes
Time-to-table: 30 minutes
Makes 1½ cups pesto (enough for 1½ pounds pasta)
  • 4 large cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 cups (about 5oz/140g) fresh spinach
  • 1 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1 cup (or more) good grated Parmesan
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Pepper to taste
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons good olive oil

In a food processor, pulse the garlic and salt until the garlic is in tiny bits. Layer the spinach, walnuts, Parmesan, basil, oregano and pepper (everything except the olive oil) around the blade. Pulse until roughly chopped, cleaning the sides occasionally. A tablespoon at a time, add the olive oil until the pesto achieves the desired consistency, from a thick paste to something akin to creamy peanut butter to a loose, drizzle-able pesto.

MAKE-AHEAD Winter Pesto can be eaten right off the bat, it'll be wondrously fresh. But if it's refrigerated, it'll keep for several days.

ALANNA's TIPS Winter Pesto makes up in mere minutes. If you plan to serve it with pasta right away, cook the pasta while making the pesto. I allow 2 tablespoons of Winter Pesto for every 2 ounces of dried pasta. Huh? For four people, cook 8 ounces dried pasta and toss it with 8 tablespoons Winter Pesto (that's half a cup). Here's a pro tip whenever using a food processor for a recipe that includes garlic. No matter what the recipe says about ingredient order, process the garlic and salt together and first! The salt gives the food processor's blade something to grab onto, making it easier to carry the garlic along. This means that the cloves chop up super small, usually without needing to scrape the bowl. And this means whatever you're making will be nice 'n' garlicky without chunks of bitter garlic. And this means no garlic breath! What kind of spinach? No frozen spinach for Winter Pesto, thanks. Fresh bags of spinach are easily found in supermarkets. Baby spinach works (and you can include the tender stems) but is a little soft for pesto, add it last, otherwise it can turn slightly mushy. Loose curly spinach from the supermarket works really well but do wash (and dry) it well, especially those curly crevasses, and remove the tough stems. My favorite fresh spinach for Winter Pesto comes in big, inexpensive bags from the supermarket and even Sam's Club. The spinach is slightly more mature (and thus less tender) but the stems are usually still quite tender, you can use them or cut them off, your choice. Bags of pre-toasted nuts are available, often at the same price as untoasted nuts. But you can toast your own nuts at 400F/200C for 5 – 10 minutes but keep a close eye on the oven for the shift from toast to burnt happens in a blink. The best prices on fresh walnuts, pecans, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and more? Trader Joe's! Are walnuts too pricey? I hear you. I usually use toasted sunflower seeds instead of walnuts. Nobody knows the difference!
NUTRITION INFORMATION Per Tablespoon (assumes 3 tablespoons olive oil): 77 Calories; 6g Tot Fat; 1g Sat Fat; 3mg Cholesterol; 93mg Sodium; 4g Carb; 2g Fiber; 0g Sugar; 4g Protein. WEIGHT WATCHERS Old Points 2 & PointsPlus 2 & SmartPoints 2 & Freestyle 2 & myWW green 2 & blue 2 & purple 2

More Spinach Recipes

(hover with a mouse for a description; otherwise click a photo to view the recipe)

Spinach Salad with Fruity Vinaigrette, Fresh Fruit & Maple-Glazed Pecans Chicken Burgers with Fresh Spinach, Feta and Garden Tzatziki Sauce Spinach Soup with Perfect Hard-Cooked Eggs
~ more spinach recipes ~
from Kitchen Parade

~ Easy Spinach Nests ~
~ Lasagna Soup with Fresh Spinach ~
~ Orzo with Spinach ~
~ Sweet Potato Curry with Red Lentils, Roasted Peppers & Spinach ~
~ more spinach recipes ~
from A Veggie Venture

More Pasta Recipes

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Mac n Chicken My Chicken Noodle Soup Broccoli Rigatoni with Chickpeas & Lemon
~ more pasta recipes ~
from Kitchen Parade

Shop Your Pantry First

(helping home cooks save money on groceries)

~ spinach ~
~ walnuts ~
~ Parmesan ~

~ All Recipes, By Ingredient ~
~ How to Save Money on Groceries ~

Kitchen Parade is written by second-generation food columnist Alanna Kellogg and features fresh, seasonal dishes for every-day healthful eating and occasional indulgences. Quick Suppers are Kitchen Parade favorites and feature recipes easy on the budget, the clock, the waistline and the dishwasher. Do you have a favorite recipe that other Kitchen Parade readers might like? Just send me a quick e-mail via How to print a Kitchen Parade recipe. Never miss a recipe! If you like this recipe, sign up for a free e-mail subscription. If you like Kitchen Parade, you're sure to like my food blog about vegetable recipes, too, A Veggie Venture. If you make this recipe, I'd love to know your results! Just leave a comment below.

© Copyright Kitchen Parade 2006, 2007 & 2019

Alanna Kellogg
Alanna Kellogg

A Veggie Venture is home of "veggie evangelist" Alanna Kellogg and the famous asparagus-to-zucchini Alphabet of Vegetables.


  1. Anonymous7/21/2007

    hello - know this recipe was posted some time ago, but i needed a cabbage recipe, so i decided to try cabbage with winter pesto.

    i LOOOOOVVVVEEEEE this pesto. it is rich, but it is delicious. i'm serving it to my non-gluten-allergic husband tonight over egg noodles!


  2. Isn't it GREAT?! And so easy, too. It is rich but I love it in small dollops for it really packs flavor. THANK YOU for making my day!!


  3. Alanna: fresh or dried herbs in the pesto?

  4. Leslie - Dried, it's winter! (But thanks for asking, that's a detail that I often missed in early columns.)

  5. Anonymous9/22/2008

    I get a different point amount when I use my on-line calculator!!! I am not sure if your points are right,,
    how do you get your points info??

  6. Which version are you questioning? The pesto with the pasta or just the pesto? I do see that the pesto itself alone should be one point, not two -- likely the result of using the manual 'slide' calculator for a long while, it always skewed down. Now I have the math in Excel, it's never on the cusp.


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Thank you for taking a moment to write! I read each and every comment, for each and every recipe. If you have a specific question, it's nearly always answered quick-quick. But I also love hearing your reactions, your curiosity, even your concerns! When you've made a recipe, I especially love to know how it turned out, what variations you made, what you'll do differently the next time. ~ Alanna