Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach and Basil Pesto

Pesto does not need to be your enemy for a healthy or low-fat lifestyle.  I won't say diet, as that would be antithetical to a Weight Watchers' Life Style and for my general take on eating and cooking.  I make food that tastes good and it isn't diet food.  Pesto isn't normally in a dieter's repertoire but if you know how to make it healthier, it can become a once in a while ingredient in your cooking.  The trick is knowing how to stretch the ingredients with healthy substitutes.  It's a trick I learned from working at the Reading Terminal Market - making a lot of pesto and not using a lot of oil and basil.  We wanted to keep the bright green and keep the "green" costs low.  The secret ingredient was spinach.  Other tricks, blanching the basil to retain its color and blanching the garlic to tame it; not using nuts or cheese in the pesto, but adding them to the finished dish as accent or accompaniment ingredients.  To make a pasta dish or salad healthier, switch out the white pasta for whole wheat or multi-grain.  Add in more vegetables. Loosen up the the pesto with a quality white balsamic or white wine vinegar and prepared Dijon mustard. Yes, you can have your pesto salad and enjoy it guilt free!

Whole Wheat Pasta with Spinach and Basil Pesto Ingredients:
  • 1/2 Pound Whole Wheat Penne or Rotini Pasta - cooked according to package directions
  • 1 Large Bunch Basil - About 2 Cups Loosely Packed
  • 2 Cups Chopped Frozen Spinach - Thawed, OR 2 Cups Fresh Spinach Loosely Packed - cleaned and stems removed
  • 1/4 Cup Olive Oil
  • 3 or 4 Garlic Cloves
  • Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper - to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons White Wine, Champagne or White Balsamic Vinegar
  • 1/2 Pound Broccoli Spears - Blanched
  • 1 lb Package of Broccoli & Carrot Slaw Mix
  • 1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan, Pecorino or Locatelli Cheese - for sprinkling  
Directions:
  1. Bring a stock pot of water to boil.  When the water comes to a rolling boil, season the water with several tablespoons of kosher salt.  Blanch the garlic cloves until they are tender - about 3 minutes.  Remove from boiling water, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking.  Set garlic cloves side.
  2. Quickly blanch the basil in the boiling water, no more than 30 seconds. Remove the basil and shock in cold water to stop the cooking and retain its bright green color.  Drain, and using a paper towel, wring as much water out of the basil as possible.  
  3. Put the basil, blanched garlic and thawed or fresh spinach into a food processor or blender and pulse to combine.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil to get the mixture moving.  Continue pulsing or blending and add in the Dijon mustard, vinegar and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Once pesto is completely smooth, stop blending/pulsing, taste and adjust seasonings, adding more salt, pepper, mustard and/or vinegar.  Set pesto aside. 
  4. Cook the pasta according to package directions to al dente.  About 1 minute before the pasta is done cooking, add in the broccoli spears to blanch.  Drain both the pasta and the broccoli, but do not rinse.  Put the pasta and broccoli into a large mixing bowl; add in the broccoli carrot slaw and stir in the pesto.  Mix thoroughly to incorporate all the pesto.  Sprinkle the grated cheese over top of the pasta salad.  Serve hot, warm or cold.  Makes 6 servings.

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