Tuesday 30 September 2014

Spinach-leek Pasta Sauce

Yesterday I was brainstorming on tasty yet healthy meal ideas and I got to thinking of taking puréed spinach and turning it into a pasta sauce. I love spinach (and pretty much all greens in general) so any excuse to sneak it into something is fine by me. In my mind, when you toss pasta noodles with sauce the main star is the sauce. Don't get it twisted, pasta is great but its whole purpose is to be a carrier for a deliciously memorable sauce. Spinach has phenomenal colour and nutritional value, but it doesn't have enough depth of flavour to make a good sauce on its own. I decided to add some leek because they are coming up in season and have a splendid, comforting oniony flavour. I also added quite a bit of garlic, which is no stranger to pasta sauce. I had some scotch bonnet peppers and decided to use those for some heat. At the end I squeezed some fresh lemon juice for a summery, zingy note to brighten it up. So flat, old spinach with the help of leek, garlic, chilies and lemon made a fantastic sauce.

Some of you might be thinking, "is that like a spinach pesto?". Well, no. Although it may be similar in appearance and concept, pesto traditionally has some kind of nut, Parmigiano Reggiano and olive oil added. This is literally a vegetable purée with a little chicken stock. It aims more at being a healthy alternative or spin to pasta sauce. 

This was an experiment and I want to play around with it a couple more times before I turn it into an official recipe. I wanted to share this dish with you as a whole because I really enjoyed it and it made a phenomenal, healthy vegetarian dinner.

I finely chopped a leek and two scotch bonnet peppers (seeds removed) and sautéed them in olive oil until the leeks had softened. Then I added four garlic cloves which I had minced and cooked for a few more minutes. That may seem like a lot of garlic but, remember, spinach needs a lot of help. Then I added some chicken stock brought it to a boil. I took a big handful of fresh baby spinach and added it to the saucepan. In a couple of minutes the spinach had wilted down completely into the sauce. Then I puréed the sauce with an immersion blender (though a regular blender will work just fine) until it was a smooth, green sauce. I added some cannellini (or "navy") beans and kept it warm until my whole wheat fusilli was ready. I tossed the fusilli with the spinach sauce and beans and squeezed in the juice of half a lemon. I added another handful of spinach to the pasta and stirred it in until it wilted. I plated the pasta with toasted pine nuts and freshly grated Parmigiano.

Simple, delicious and flavourful. It was earthy, savoury, spicy and lemony. The dish was a good source of iron, minerals, fibre, protein and much more. If this sounds like something you'd like to try for yourself, I encourage it. Tweak it however you feel.

I'm going to try this a few more times before I put an official recipe on lockdown. I wanted to share this much with you in the meantime.

I have an exciting foodie event coming up this weekend that you will not want to miss. Stay tuned, it's going to be fantastic!

Until then,


PS: As always, when you make something like this, taste and season with salt and pepper as you go. A pinch of salt will also help to break down the leeks when they are initially sautéed. 

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