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I’m not very open-minded when it comes to green sauces. I’ll just get that out right now. As a kid, the only pasta I had was spaghetti (and we had that every Saturday night without fail) with ground beef cooked in tomato sauce flavored with a packet of dry mix. I loved it! But that’s the total exposure I had to pasta which, in Minnesota, was about average back then. Of course, that all changed when I moved to upstate New York, which began a lasting love of pasta of all shapes and sizes. However, I just could never wrap my head around sauce that wasn’t tomato, cream, or cheese-based. Just the thought of putting something green on warm pasta disgusted me. Over the years, I learned to like pesto but wouldn’t consider myself a fan, nor did I ever make it. I’m proud to say my aversion to green sauce is officially over!
Many of my recipes are born out of a need to use up the stuff in my refrigerator. Hey, we all different muses. I wish I could tell you that my culinary inspiration results from soulful meditation while looking deep into the flame of a burning candle. The truth is that I can’t bring myself to waste fresh food – it’s what truly motivates me.
In this case, I had an avocado begging to be used or go bad, half a bag of baby spinach, and a carton of grape tomatoes that were on the verge of wrinkling like raisins if not used immediately. While still perfectly good, the avocado was too soft for anything other than a dip, but I just had one. Not really enough for a batch of guacamole. Then it hit me to try making a variation of pesto using spinach, with the avocado adding creaminess. Hmmm.
I grow basil in my herb garden, but it’s a small plant, so there were just enough leaves to add some flavor. Naturally, fresh garlic was a must, but only one clove. Just enough to add some zing without overpowering the other flavors. It occurred to me that the avocado would turn brown unless I added a hit of citrus acid. I went back to the fridge and found a lime that was either use or lose – so lime juice it was. I believe in using as much as possible of fruit and produce, so I wasn’t going to juice it without zesting it first. Good decision! The zest of the lime totally lifts and brightens the flavor.
I considered throwing the tomatoes in the food processor with the avocado and spinach but then decided the tomatoes were too pretty. They were still firm, so I opted to slice them in half and add them to the pasta. I am sensitive to most tomatoes because of their acid. Grape tomatoes are sweet little red gems that don’t cause me any issues. I use them in most recipes that call for tomatoes. Cherry tomatoes or even quartered plum tomatoes would also be delicious. They just won’t add the same touch of sweetness as grape tomatoes.
Another ingredient I had hanging out in my fridge was an opened package of shredded mozzarella cheese. I believe that everything is better with cheese, and this seemed like a great fit. If you’re not into cheese, don’t have cheese in the fridge, or are Vegan – omit it. (That’s why I designated it as an optional ingredient). Along with the cheese, I found some pine nuts! Now, they weren’t going to spoil, but I decided to use them since I had them. Pine nuts taste much better toasted, which is really easy to do. Place the pine nuts in a dry (don’t add oil) frying pan, just large enough to hold them in a single layer. Heat on med-low and cook until golden brown, frequently stirring until golden brown. Immediately remove from the heat and transfer to a plate to prevent burning. Word to the wise, don’t walk away – when the heat reaches the right temp, the nuts go from white to golden to burnt really fast. If you don’t have pine nuts, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) will work. You could even try walnuts or pecans – use whatever is in your pantry or fridge.
I like the look and taste of rotini pasta, and I had half a box in my pantry. Any pasta will work – use what you have on hand. Shells, bowtie, spirals, even ziti are good. Cook according to the box instructions. If you want to be fashionable, the desired doneness is al-dente (cooked “firm to the bite”). Blame it on my Minnesotan pasta upbringing, but I don’t like firm pasta. I prefer my pasta a little more soft and tender – I’m willing to risk the scrutiny. (I’m comfortable knowing what I like!) Cook it however you like it. I can’t say that no one is judging, but I’m certainly not. Place the cooked pasta in a large serving bowl.
The mise-en-place is straightforward. The pasta needs to be cooked, avocado peeled, and pitted. Zest and juice the lime (in that order!) The spinach and basil need to be cleaned and trimmed. I buy pre-washed and trimmed baby spinach. It’s a timesaver for which I don’t mind paying a few more cents. We already discussed the pine nuts. They should be toasted.
Once the prep is done, it takes less than 2 minutes to pull the dish together. Throw everything, except the tomatoes, pasta, cheese, and oil, into the food processor. Pulse until chopped and then run while streaming in the olive oil until smooth.
Spoon the mixture onto the pasta. Add in the sliced tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, and, if you choose to use it, the shredded cheese. If you want to morph this from a side dish to the main course, add a protein, like grilled shrimp, chicken, or tofu, for a complete meal. I keep frozen, cooked shrimp in my freezer. I thawed a bunch while I was cooking the pasta, and they were ready to be added. It made a perfect Springtime dinner!
The Spring green sauce is so creamy you would swear it was made with heavy cream – no one would ever guess it was avocado! The flavors are bright and the colors vibrant. It can be served warmed or chilled. Either way, this dish is, ready for it, PASTA-TIVELY amazing. Enjoy!
Pasta with Tomatoes & Avocado SauceCourse: SidesCuisine: AmericanDifficulty: Easy
This PASTA-TIVELY dish features a creamy, rich avocado sauce made with healthy spinach and basil with a vibrant lime and garlic zing that takes seconds a food processor. Bright red grape tomatoes and toasted pine nuts add sweetness, color and crunch.
½ lb rotini pasta
1 ripe avocado, peeled and pitted
1 cup fresh spinach
1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves
1 garlic clove, halved
1 lime juiced and zested
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
2½ tablespoons olive oil
1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
Optional: ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese
- Prep: Peel and pit avocado, peel the garlic clove and cut in half, squeeze lime juice and zest lime, rinse spinach and basil if not pre-washed, clean tomatoes and slice in half, toast pine nuts (see notes)
- Cook pasta according to package directions for al dente. Meanwhile, place avocados, spinach, basil, garlic, lime juice, salt, and pepper in a food processor; pulse until chopped. Continue processing while gradually adding oil in a steady stream.
- Drain rotini and transfer to a large bowl. Add avocado mixture and tomatoes; toss to coat. Top with pine nuts and toppings of your choice
- Pasta: Substitute spirals, shells, bowties, or ziti
- To toast pine nuts: Place pine nuts in a dry (don’t add oil) frying pan large enough to hold them in a single layer on med-low heat. Cook until golden brown, stirring frequently until golden brown. Immediately remove from heat and transfer to a plate to prevent burning.
- Pepita seeds can be substituted for the pine nuts
- Tomatoes: Cherry tomatoes or chopped plum tomatoes can also be used
- Shortcut: Buy pre-washed baby spinach
- Lime: If you don’t have a fresh lime, bottled lime juice can be used and the zest omitted
- Turn into a meal by adding shrimp, diced chicken, or tofu.
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