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Casarecce Pasta with Spinach Pesto and Chicken

By Heidi Allison
Image of Casarecce Pasta with Spinach Pesto and Chicken
By swapping out the heady basil for less traditional spinach, the flavor profile of this iconic Italian dish actually gets more elegant and refined. And, more kid-friendly too! Organic Baby Spinach imparts a sweeter, less pungent, herbal taste to the finished dish, which woos even the pickiest of palates—a stellar dish for sneaking healthy greens into your kid’s diet! This versatile dish is also very forgiving in the amount of garlic you can use without sacrificing taste: for young kids, and those sensitive to raw garlic, stick with 1 clove. For everyone else —use 4 cloves, minimum.

The “difference-that-grabs-your-attention” in this dish, compared to conventional basil pesto, is its unusually creamy “mouthfeel”: in contrast to ”watery” basil, spinach imparts a richer, creamier sensation that seems to coat the tongue, like cream. Vegetarian comfort food at its best, this recipe makes a great side for the holidays, or, busy weekdays, since it’s quick to make!

Pine Nuts
To get the right texture in the sauce, it’s best to use a food processor (or, do it the old way: pound it by hand with a mortar and pestle). Although you can use a blender in a pinch, the downside is that this type of machine creates a more homogenous emulsion than rustic sauce…you’ll get the right flavor, but not the right texture. What you are looking for is small bits of green, pine nuts, cheese and garlic that are visible in the finished sauce.

Another trick that ensures success is prepping the spinach before adding it to the food processor by washing it in a warm, saltwater bath two times, followed with a quick rinse in cool water. This crucial step not only cleans your greens, but makes their color “pop” to a more vibrant shade of Kelly green. Moreover, the warmth of the warm water gently softens their texture.

This dish is also economical in that leftover, dressed pasta holds exceptionally well, and this dish tastes even better the next day cold!

Casarecce Pasta with Spinach Pesto and Chicken
Serves 2 as a main; 4 as a side

8 ounces Casarecce Pasta
2 packages of Pre-Washed Organic Baby Spinach
4 Tablespoon Basil Flavored Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic
½ cup Pine Nuts, toasted
Juice of 1 Lemon
Zest of ½ Lemon
2 ounces Parmesan Cheese
2 Tablespoon Pasta Cooking Water
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
Black Pepper to taste
8 ounce Roasted Skinless Chicken Breast


Toast Pine Nuts.
Image of Pine Nuts
Heat a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil and add pasta, cooking until el dente, about 9-11 minutes.
Image of Organic spinach in a bowl with water
While pasta is cooking, fill a large bowl with hot water and add ¼ cup of salt. Rinse spinach several times then remove. Repeat process with one more warm salt water rinse followed by a cool water rinse. Then set aside.
Image of spinach in food processor
Add spinach to food processor and top with nuts, lemon juice, cheese, salt, garlic and pulse 10 times. Add cooking water and pulse 10 times.
Image of adding cheese to spinach mixture
Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream while pulsing 10 more times. Fold in lemon zest and season with a several turns of freshly ground black pepper.
Image of Spinach Pesto
Drain pasta, reserving ½ cup of pasta cooking water. Place pasta in a large bowl and add 1 cup of spinach pesto and toss until pasta is coated. Add chicken and toss again. If too dry, add a tablespoon of pasta cooking water and toss again.
Image of Casarecce Pasta with Spinach Pesto and Chicken
Notes from the Author:
Dish travels well in school lunches, or eat again as a savory side for another meal.
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