Spinach Pesto Alla Genovese with Zucchini

by Rustic Family Recipes
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Spinach Pesto Alla Genovese with Zucchini is one of my favorite ways to use summer produce. In this easy pesto recipe, we’ll be swapping basil for garden greens and the pine nuts for walnuts, almonds or pistachios. As you might have guessed, this pesto is highly customizable!

Pasta with pesto alla genovese in a white bowl with zucchini
Pistachio pesto with zucchini, corn kernels and a touch of cilantro mixed in.

Garden season is officially upon us and that means it’s time to start making pesto! The title of this recipe is probably a dead giveaway, but this is not your typical pesto. Instead, this is a highly customizable “base recipe” that uses garden produce. You know I love recipes that just roll with whatever you’ve got.

This easy pesto sauce is one of our favorite pasta toppings. It’s super quick to prepare and full of nutrients!

What is Pesto Alla Genovese?

Traditionally pesto was made by pounding the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle. That is where the name of the classic pasta sauce originates – the Italian word pestare means “to pound” or “to crush.” The last part of the name alla Genovese just means that the sauce originated in Genoa, Italy. These days most cooks will use a food processor instead of a mortar and pestle since it requires less effort and grinds everything together so uniformly.

A classic Pesto alla Genovese is made of pine nuts, crushed garlic, salt, basil leaves, Parmesan and olive oil. In this recipe we are swapping the pine nuts for walnuts, almonds or pistachios. We are also swapping the basil for spinach or kale. The name still applies though since technically pesto is any sauce that is pounded together.

What You’ll Need for this Recipe

This list is going to have a lot of notes because there are so many ways you can make the pesto. I hope the notes are helpful!

For the Pesto

  • Spinach or kale: Today I made this pesto with baby spinach but I’ve also used baby kale. Fully grown kale and spinach work too, just remove the thickest part of the stems first.
  • Nuts: Traditional Pesto Alle Genovese uses pine nuts, and those are delightful in this recipe. I also like to use walnuts, almonds or pistachios.
  • Garlic: Another traditional pesto ingredient.
  • Parmesan Cheese: I add generous amounts of cheese to my pesto. Then I sprinkle more on top!
  • Olive oil: Use a good quality extra virgin olive oil.
  • Salt, pepper and red chili flakes: These all add more flavor to the pesto.
  • Pasta: Any kind of pasta will do.

For the veggies

  • Butter: This is for cooking the veggies.
  • Salt & pepper: To taste.
  • Zucchini, Squash, Broccoli, Asparagus: Any of these veggies will work.
    • I prefer baby zucchini or baby yellow squash, but fully sized squash also works. We will adjust the amounts of course.
    • If you are using broccoli, remove the stems and slice large florets in half.
    • For asparagus, remove the woody stems and slice the top of the asparagus into bite sized pieces.
  • Scallions: These add flavor to the veggies.
  • Corn kernels: Totally optional. Sometimes I will mix these in with the other veggies when I’m cooking everything up.
  • Herbs? Also totally optional. Depending on what’s in the garden I may toss in a small handful of fresh basil, thyme, cilantro or oregano.

Making this Dish Your Own

The photos in this post show how this dish can look with two of the combos mentioned above. You can experiment and see what you like best! As long as you keep the amounts the same, your pesto pasta will come out beautifully.

So for example, you can use whichever nut you prefer in the pesto but the total amount of nuts needs to stay the same. Similarly, you can use whichever veggies you like best, or even a combo of zucchini + asparagus, for example. However, the total amount of veggies used should remain the same.

Pasta with pesto alla genovese and asparagus in a white bowl
Pesto pasta with asparagus and fresh thyme.

How to Make Spinach Pesto Alla Genovese with Zucchini

Make the pasta: Heat a large pot of salted water and cook your pasta according to the package instructions. I will usually cook the veggies and make the pesto while the water is heating up. This way your pasta doesn’t sit for too long after it is finished cooking. Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining.

Cook the veggies: In a medium to large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add your veggies of choice along with a generous pinch of kosher salt and a sprinkle of pepper. Cook about10 minutes, stirring frequently until the veggies have softened. Give them a taste to make sure they are seasoned to your liking. If you are using fresh herbs, now is the time to add them. Give them a good stir to work them into the veggies, then remove the skillet from the heat.

Make the pesto: In a food processor, add your greens, garlic, nuts, parmesan, salt, pepper and red chili flakes. Pulse until all the ingredients are finely ground, stopping a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Slowly add the olive oil while the food processor is running. Pulse a few more times, scraping down the sides, until everything is well combined. Give it a taste and adjust the salt/pepper if needed.

Combine: Return your drained pasta to the large pot. Add in the pesto and stir everything together to combine. If the pesto is too thick for your liking, you can add some of the reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time until your sauce is creamy and has coated all the noodles. Add the cooked veggies and stir to combine.

Serve: Add a bit more parmesan cheese on top just before digging in!

Serving Suggestions

Serve this pesto pasta with a fresh salad (I love this Heirloom Tomato Salad) or something bready you can use to scoop up every bit of pesto on your plate. I love serving homemade popovers, buttermilk biscuits, sweet potato biscuits or even challah on the side! A simple slice of crusty bread is also a winning combo.

Print

Spinach Pesto Alla Genovese with Zucchini

Pesto pasta in a white bowl with zucchini

Spinach Pesto Alla Genovese with Zucchini is one of my favorite ways to use summer produce. In this easy pesto recipe, we’ll be swapping basil for garden greens and the pine nuts for walnuts, almonds or pistachios. As you might have guessed, this pesto is highly customizable!

  • Author: Rustic Family Recipes
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 56 servings 1x
  • Category: Pasta
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Italian-American

Ingredients

Scale

For the Pasta

  • 1 16-oz package of your preferred pasta

For the Pesto

  • 4 cups spinach or kale, loosely packed
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup raw walnuts, almonds or pistachios (don’t use salted nuts)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pinch red pepper flakes
  • 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup reserved pasta water

For the Veggies

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 cups baby zucchini or squash, roughly chopped (**see notes)
  • 4 scallions, whites removed then roughly chopped
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1 cup of corn kernels, optional. Fresh, frozen or from a can, drained.
  • Fresh herbs, optional. A small handful of roughly torn/chopped thyme, cilantro, oregano or basil are all nice in this recipe.

Instructions

Make the pasta

Heat a large pot of salted water and cook your pasta according to the package instructions. I will usually cook the veggies and make the pesto while the water is heating up. This way your pasta doesn’t sit for too long after it is finished cooking.

Reserve 1/2 cup of the pasta water before draining.

Cook the veggies

In a medium to large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add your veggies of choice along with a generous pinch of kosher salt and a sprinkle of pepper.

Cook about10 minutes, stirring frequently until the veggies have softened. Give them a taste to make sure they are seasoned to your liking. If you are using fresh herbs, you can add a small handful of them at this point. Give them a good stir to work them into the veggies, then taste and remove the skillet from the heat.

Make the pesto

In a food processor, add your greens, garlic, nuts, parmesan, salt, pepper and red chili flakes. Pulse until all the ingredients are finely ground, stopping a few times to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

Slowly add the olive oil while the food processor is running. Pulse a few more times, scraping down the sides, until everything is well combined. Give it a taste and adjust the salt/pepper if needed.

Assemble the Pasta Dish

Return your drained pasta to the large pot. Add in the pesto and stir everything together to combine. If the pesto is too thick for your liking, you can add some of the reserved pasta water 1 tablespoon at a time until your sauce is creamy and has coated all the noodles.

Add the cooked veggies and stir to combine.

Serve

Add a bit more parmesan cheese on top just before digging in!

Notes

Veggies**

Here are the amounts of veggies you can use interchangeably. Just make sure the total amount of veggies remains at 3 cups.

  • Baby zucchini or baby yellow squash, ends removed and roughly chopped
  • Full size zucchini or yellow squash. I will usually use one of these if using full sized squash.
  • Asparagus with woody ends removed, then roughly chopped tops.
  • Baby broccoli, woody ends removed, then roughly chopped
  • Head of broccoli, remove the large woody end, then split the florets so they are bite sized

Storage:

You can store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. Heat in the microwave just until warmed through. You can add a small amount of olive oil to your warmed pasta to loosen up the pesto, if needed.

Keywords: kale pesto, spinach pesto, pesto alle genovese, pesto without pine nuts

Did you make this recipe?

Please rate the recipe & leave a comment to let me know. :)

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