Sunday, May 10, 2015

Pasta with Fresh Spinach/Basil Cream Sauce

Summer-like weather has officially arrived in the Pacific Northwest, and every day of the week, you can find an open and thriving farmers market. I love my local produce stand for their vast selection and low prices, but it's so very important to support our local farmers.

Yesterday I went to the Farmers Market in my town. It's small (one square block), but what it lacks in size it makes up for with enthusiastic vendors and produce so fresh it's as though you just picked it from your backyard.

It's too early for the warm-weather crops, but spinach and fresh basil were available today. And with just a few additional ingredients, dinner was served.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. pasta, dried or fresh, (use your favorite)
  • 8 oz. ricotta cheese, (ok to use reduced fat or fat-free)
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest, lightly packed, freshly grated
  • 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper
  • 6 cups baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cups fresh basil, loosely packed, chopped
  1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the pasta in the water until al dente, about 11 minutes. Reserve about 1/3 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, Parmesan, olive oil, zest, and salt and pepper. Add the spinach leaves and chopped basil.
  3. Add the hot pasta to the ricotta/spinach mixture and toss to coat. The heat of the pasta will wilt the spinach. Add the reserved cooking liquid as needed to moisten the pasta.


What makes this recipe work?

  • Ricotta cheese provides a rich, creamy texture to the sauce without the use of heavy cream.
  • Lemon zest is a bright, tangy note that makes it possible to use less salt.
  • Spinach is a nutrient-rich vegetable.
  • Basil provides a pungent punch of flavor.


How To Change This Recipe

If you want a heartier meal, feel free to add a diced, cooked protein. Some suggestions are:
  • add chicken, turkey, or shrimp and some halved cherry tomatoes
  • stir in diced ham and then add chopped walnuts
  • Use cilantro in place of the basil and then add some chopped black olives and half of a finely minced jalepeno


How to Select and Store Spinach

Choose spinach that has vibrant deep green leaves and stems with no signs of yellowing. The leaves should look fresh and tender, and not be wilted or bruised. Avoid those that have a slimy coating as this is an indication of decay.
Do not wash spinach before storing as the exposure to water encourages spoilage. Place spinach in a plastic storage bag and wrap the bag tightly around the spinach, squeezing out as much of the air as possible. Place in refrigerator where it will keep fresh for up to 5 days.


Health Benefits of Spinach

Spinach might be called "the amazing disappearing vegetable", because a one-pound bag, when steamed, becomes a wilted mound that will easily fit in the palm of your hand. But what an amazing powerhouse in that tiny bit of greens. Low in calories and high in vitamins, spinach is one of the most nutrient-dense foods in existence. One cup of the contains far more than your daily requirements of vitamins K and A, almost all the manganese and folate your body needs, and nearly 40 percent of your magnesium requirement.

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