Monday, June 11, 2012

Farmers' Market Pasta Salad with Spinach Pesto

As much as I love doing guest posts, I had recently sworn off doing any until I could get caught up on my own blog. Yet, just days after making this resolution, I received a guest post invitation from the folks at Bldg 25. I happen to be a follower of the blog, and a big fan of the clothing brand, Free People, which the site represents. If you're wondering what a clothing company's blog might have to do with food, hop on over, as you'll be pleasantly surprised to find blog posts about everything from diy projects to beauty tips, and much more.
Being a fan, I could hardly say no {I was also quite flattered to be asked!} - so I got to work developing this recipe, as part of their new series titled Living Local, which "explores the different facets of living a mindful locavore lifestyle". When given the option, buying local is always my preferred method when choosing the foods we eat, and I am quite lucky to live in an area that has some of the most extensive and plentiful Farmers' Markets around. 
For this recipe, I paid a visit to the Westport Farmers' Market, which happens to be one of my favorites. Not only because it's large, with a vast selection of locally grown produce, but also because they're committed to selecting vendors who sell organic, and non-GMO foods only. This results in one potential downside for me, in that there are so many beautiful items to choose from, I end up buying more than I intended to! As case in point, after arriving with the intention of buying one bunch of greens, this trip yielded two bunches of mizuna {one red variegated & one green}, a bunch of spinach, a bag of mesclun greens, and a small container of red orach micro greens...not to mention the items I purchased which were unrelated to this recipe. When I got home and mulled over some ideas, I decided to incorporate all of the greens in a pasta salad dressed with a pesto made using fresh spinach.
I love traditional basil pesto, but frankly I'm not the biggest fan of having it over pasta. Mostly because I find it can be too overwhelming a flavor when eating so much of it. I prefer using basil pesto in other applications, such as drizzled over fresh mozzarella and tomatoes, dolloped on homemade pizza, or substituting it for mayonnaise on a sandwich. This inspired my interest in making a pesto with a milder favor, that I could enjoy over pasta, and which allowed the ingredients served with it a chance to stand out as well.
I began by swapping out the basil in favor of fresh spinach, which is not only a notably milder green, but also a significantly less expensive one. Another change was the oil I used. The slightly bitter flavor of olive oil can stand up to bold-flavored basil, however, it's not as well suited for spinach. So, after experimenting with some neutral-flavored oils that I thought might work well with spinach, I decided the best match was grapeseed oil.
Finally, another component of pesto that I usually always have on hand, is good Parmesan cheese. But the day I made this, I happened to have a block of Grana Padano in the fridge. This turned out to be a blessing, because I actually loved it for this recipe. In fact, I might go as far as saying I preferred it.
Grana Padano is similar to Parmigiano-Reggiano in many ways, but some of the ways they differ are in texture, flavor and price. Grana is typically less expensive, the flavor is less salty and intense, and it has a slightly softer texture. In keeping with my goal of a 'less-overpowering' pesto, it worked very well. Try playing around with some locally-grown greens for this pasta salad...it's really about using what's available to you. Enjoy!
Some more of my Pesto favorites - Traditional Basil Pesto | Pesto Pasta Salad with Grilled Chicken | Roasted Tomatoes with Pesto | Roasted Almond Ricotta Pesto with Olives | Grilled Chicken Salad with Tarragon Pesto

Farmers Market Salad with Spinach Pesto

Serves 4-6
{printable recipe}
This salad is really about using what’s available to you locally. Any bitter green can be substituted for the mizuna, and likewise any milder leafy green can be used in place of the mesclun. Spinach pesto is milder than traditional basil pesto, making it perfect for kids, and it’s more economical. This recipe yields about 1 ½ cups of pesto, so you’ll have plenty for leftovers, and pesto freezes well!

1 pound fusilli
4 ½ ounces fresh spinach leaves
⅓ cup toasted pine nuts
1 cup freshly grated Grana Padano cheese
a pinch of Maldon sea salt flakes
a few grinds of black pepper
½ cup grapeseed oil
1 cup mizuna leaves
1 cup mesclun mix
optional garnish: additional pine nuts, grated cheese & micro greens

Boil the pasta for 1 minute less than al dente, according to the package instructions. Drain and rinse under cool water. Transfer to a mixing bowl, drizzle with the tiniest splash of oil {just enough to keep it from sticking together} and toss.

Add the spinach, pine nuts, cheese, salt, and pepper to the bowl of a food processor. With the processor running, slowly pour the grapeseed oil in through the feed tube. Process until smooth.

Pour about a ½ cup of the spinach pesto over the cooked pasta, and toss to coat evenly. Add more, if desired, until the pasta is coated well with pesto. If necessary, tear or coarsely chop the mizuna and mesclun greens into bite-sized pieces. Add them to the pasta, and toss gently. Taste, and season with a bit more salt and freshly ground pepper to your liking.

Transfer the pasta salad to a serving platter, or divide among serving plates, and sprinkle with some pine nuts and a bit more freshly grated cheese. Garnish the top with a few pinches of colorful micro greens {I used micro red orach}, and serve.

18 comments:

kellypea said...

Oh, my. This looks and sounds like an amazing pasta salad. I've been avoiding pasta -- something I love -- but with so much green flavor, I'm going to have to try this.

Lauren Brown said...

Beautiful pictures Kate! And the pasta looks delish. I will definitely try this one.

london bakes said...

This sounds lovely and so beautiful!

meginthekitchen.me said...

Beautiful salad - I love the red garnish in the top photo. I'll check out the Bldg 25 blog - thanks for letting us know you're guest posting there.

kelsey said...

This looks divine!

Laurie {Simply Scratch} said...

Oh this is a thing of beauty!!

Joanne said...

Nothing screams summer to me more than pesto...in any incarnation. And I love how vibrantly green this is! Totally my kind of meal.

Chelsie said...

Your photos are great! You are very talented.

Emily said...

That looks deliciously fresh. I will definitely be trying it!

SkinnyMommy said...

I love pesto and this one looks great!

Hena Tayeb said...

oh yum. That looks gorgeous. And I love the fork

CJ - Food Stories said...

Thx for connecting with me on foodbuzz. I just subscribed to your blog feed and can't wait to see what your next post will be!

ZDub said...

This looks sooo good!

Trish said...

Beautiful pasta! I love using other greens as a base for pesto as well... they can have a surprising flavour - mild or spicy depending on the green.

Kari Lindsay said...

This looks so pretty! I bet it tastes great too. I'm Always looking to get more greens into my diet, this is greens upon greens.

Panfusine said...

It looks Divine, So perfect for the SUmmer!

Riley said...

Spinach pesto sounds fun! I think I'll add some herbs - I have so many in my fridge that I dont know what to do with.

LucyinAust said...

I made this for a fussy eater and they ate it up never knowing it was full of spinach! I liked the mild flavour as I too am not a huge fan of basil pestos on pasta. I had to replace the pinenuts with almonds as I couldn't find any at my local store.

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