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Another recipe dedicated to Jongleur, my food's greatest fan, with many thanks. In this case, the story begins one night a week or so ago when I was sautéing mushrooms, onions, garlic, green pepper and herbs for a pasta sauce that would eventually incorporate a bunch of tomato as well. "That smells good enough to eat just like that," he said, and since I'm always on the lookout for good pasta sauces that don't use tomato, it caught my attention. I went ahead with dinner as planned, although I did come up with the idea of incorporating the veggies into a pesto-based sauce at the time. Flash forward to about an hour ago, when I'm mucking around the kitchen trying to figure out what to do with just enough spinach for one person to have steamed or in a salad. In the past, I've blended roughly this amount into ricotta cheese for lasagna filling, or chopped it into macaroni and cheese before baking. (We had the leftovers of the latter highly successful experiment for dinner last night, but I digress.)

Here's why this recipe is really revolutionary for me: Pesto, in my brain, is always basil and garlic-based unless explicitly specified otherwise. Yet somehow I got it into my head that I could use spinach as the leafy green basis for the paste, and that it could be good. I had to try. Here's what I did:


  • 1/2 lb linguine
  • Pesto:
    • 2-3 ounces spinach (about 1 serving, 2 handfuls, or a bunch a little smaller than your head), rinsed and chopped
    • 3 big cloves of garlic, minced
    • 1/4 cup grated hard sharp cheese (parmesan, romano, or asiago; I used the latter).
    • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
    • 1-2 tablespoons fresh basil
  • Sautéed Vegetables:
    • 8 white mushrooms, sliced
    • 1 smallish zucchini (about 6-7 inches long), sliced
    • 1/2 onion, diced
    • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
    • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
    • dried oregano
    • dried thyme


Start by making the pesto: Sauté the first 3 or 4 cloves of garlic in olive oil in a frying pan on medium heat. When they start to release their wonderful pungent smell, add the spinach. Stir until the spinach is coated in oil and garlic, and cook until the leaves have just wilted. Remove from heat and puree in a food processor with the grated cheese and basil. You should have about 3/4 of a cup to a cup of warm green aromatic paste. Set it aside for now.

Next, start 10 or more cups of water boiling on the stove in an appropriately-sized pot. Add a few pinches of salt if you like.

While you're waiting for the water to boil, sauté the mushrooms in 1-2 more tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat (you can use the same frying pan you used for the spinach; they won't mind). Add the zucchini, then the onions, then the garlic, stirring occasionally but not constantly. (If you're cutting up the vegetables as you go along, like I did, the water will get to a boil at around this point, although that will vary depending on your stove and vegetable-processing speed.) Cook the linguine for 7 to 9 minutes, depending on how al dente you like it. Meanwhile, add the dried herbs to the sautéing vegetables when the mushrooms start to smell tasty and the onions are beginning to become transparent.

When the pasta are cooked to your satisfaction, drain them and put them back in the pot, and toss them with the spinach pesto until they are well-coated. Serve topped with generous servings of the vegetables on top and a little more grated cheese for big presentation points.

Serves two.

Addendum (21 February 2003): This works with regular basil pesto as well, but I'd recommend using only 1/8 to 1/4 cup instead of the full 1/2 cup, since basil pesto is much stronger than the spinach kind described above.

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