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Pesto definitely screams summer! But what happens when you’re craving it in middle of March? You make due with what you have by substituting greens for some of the herbs. Kale is easier to find this time of year than basil, so that’s an easy switch to still enjoy dishes like this pesto spaghetti!
How to make pesto sauce
To make pesto, you’ll need 5 crucial ingredients and the 6th one (cheese is usually optional)
- Greens – Greens are where all the color and herby flavor for pesto comes from. Traditionally you make pesto with basil, but you can also use other herbs like parsley, cilantro or mint. And since it’s barely even spring, you can use leafy greens to sub for some or all of the herbs. I like using spinach, kale, arugula or any micro greens you can find. Baby kale also gives it a milder flavor for kids.
- Garlic – The garlic needs to be as fresh as possible because it will lend so much robust flavor to the dish this way.
- Nuts – Pine nuts are most popular. But pesto is so forgiving and adaptable, so you can make this with walnuts or pecans or almonds, like I did.
- Olive oil – This is what we use to emulsify and blend all the ingredients together after they’re roughly chopped. Make sure to use high quality extra-virgin olive oil. The flavor will be more rich and well-rounded that way.
- Lemon juice – To brighten the pesto and balance the robust taste of the garlic, add some lemon juice in there.
- Cheese – The cheese adds a salty and creamy factor to the pesto. Typically, grated Parmesan cheese is a popular choice, but it’s not really required, especially if you want to make vegan pesto. I add just a couple tablespoons to the whole mixture because I like the saltiness it lends to the pesto.
Pesto comes from the Italian word for “pestare” which means to pound or crush. Traditionally, this was done with a mortar and pestle. Now we just use a handy food processor and it’s pesto pronto! Look at that gorgeous green color! I’m obsessed!
How do you make pesto spaghetti
Now to make the pesto spaghetti, it’s just about mixing the pesto sauce we just made with spaghetti. To make it lighter in calories and add some more vegetables to the dish, I also use zucchini and spiralize it to blend into the spaghetti. If you peel the skin off the zucchini, you can’t even tell which strands are spaghetti and which are zucchini!
If you want to add some protein to the meal, try chicken, steak, salmon or shrimp. You can simply season shrimp with salt and pepper and olive oil, skewer them and cook on a grill pan. It makes for a fun summer-inspired meal in the middle of March.
Keep in mind that when you cook the spaghetti, it’s a good idea to reserve about 1 cup of pasta cooking water. I always do this when I cook pasta because you never know when you need to thin out the sauce. And it’s much more flavorful to thin it out with pasta water than plain water. Olive oil is a good way to thin out pasta sauce, but that adds too many calories and fat unnecessarily sometimes.
When you toss the pesto spaghetti together, I recommend starting with half the pesto, give it a good toss, and then add pesto sauce or pasta water as needed. You may end up with some extra pesto. But that’s not a bad problem haha!
Then serve it all together with a side of a couple skewers of shrimp. There is just something about food a stick that is fun for adults and kids and gives the meal a total summer vibe! You can toss on top some grated parmesan cheese or enjoy it as is.
Tips for me making pesto spaghetti
- Use high quality ingredients as much as possible. Because the ingredients are so simple for the pesto, it all comes down to quality. So you want to make sure to find fresh basil, extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and fresh garlic. It will make all the difference in the flavor!
- Use the pulse option on your food processor. Pesto is supposed to be chunky, so feel free to pre-chop the ingredients or use the pulse option of the food processor to chop the herbs roughly before adding the olive oil. This will make sure that the greens keep their bright color and don’t turn pasty with the nuts.
- Reserve pasta water to mix with the pesto. The salty, starchy water left after cooking the pasta adds a lot of flavor to the pesto spaghetti. But an important thing it does in this recipe is actually help bind the pasta and sauce together.
- Don’t cook the zucchini. Zucchini releases a lot of water and can turn soggy quickly. After making the zoodles, simple toss the zucchini with the spaghetti and the pesto sauce. The warm cooked spaghetti will heat everything up without making the zucchini soggy.
This pesto spaghetti is so easy to make even when it’s not quite summer outside because of my easy substitutions and thanks to an indoor grill pan. The pesto is fresh, herby and nutty, and I love that bright flavor of the pesto tossed with the spaghetti and zucchini. It’s a popular dish that everyone loves and is fun for kids to try!
For more pesto recipes:
For more pasta recipes:
- Healthy Shrimp Scampi
- Arrabiata Pasta with Shrimp
- Roasted Red Pepper Pasta
- Pumpkin Pesto Pasta
- Lemon Ricotta Pasta
If you’ve tried this healthy-ish feel good Pesto Spaghetti with Shrimp recipe or any other recipe on FeelGoodFoodie, then don’t forget to rate the recipe and leave me a comment below! I would love to hear about your experience making it. And if you snapped some shots of it, share it with me on Instagram so I can repost on my stories!
Pesto Spaghetti with Shrimp
For the Pesto
- 1 cup basil leaves destemmed
- 1 cup baby kale destemmed
- ¼ cup almonds silvered blanched
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons parmesan cheese freshly grated
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Juice of ½ lemon
For the Shrimp
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 pound raw shrimp deveined, tail off
- Salt and pepper to taste
For the spaghetti
- 2 zucchinis spiralized
- 8 ounces spaghetti
- To make the pesto, Combine basil leaves, pine nuts or walnuts and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced. Add the lemon juice and parmesan cheese. Then with the machine running slowly pour in the oil and process until the mixture is smooth.
- To cook the spaghetti, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta and return to the pot to stay warm.
- To cook the shrimp, season shrimp with salt and pepper. Skewer the shrimp, if desired or as is. Preheat pan to medium-heat and add the olive oil. Cook shrimp for 2-3 minutes per side, or until it turns pink.
- When you’re ready to eat, toss the pesto with the pasta water along with the cooked spaghetti and raw zucchini noodles until well combined. Serve with the cooked shrimp on the side with fresh basil, if desired.
Nutrition information provided is an estimate. It will vary based on cooking method and specific ingredients used.