Healthy & flavorful pesto (with rotini, parmesan, spinach and pine nuts)

by Anjali @ The Picky Eater on January 9, 2011

Hi Everyone!! I’m back from my trip to New Zealand and this is my first post in the new year πŸ™‚ So first of all, happy new year to all of you – I hope you had a great holiday! As for me – my trip to New Zealand was absolutely amazing – probably one of the coolest vacations I’ve ever taken in my life! Later this week I’ll be sharing pictures of all the great FOOD we ate during our vacation, along with some fun stories about the adventures we had (one of which was a 400 ft bungy jump into a canyon which each of us did individually!)

But first – I’d like to share this recipe for an awesome, flavorful, healthy pesto that I made for dinner tonight and tossed with rotini, spinach, parmesan and pine nuts (note – next time I’ll be adding in diced tomatoes for some extra texture and flavor as well!) The reason I was so excited to try this recipe is that pesto is one of my favorite things to eat – but it’s always loaded with tons of fat and calories (coming from oil, cheese and nuts). And while those are all good fats (and you should definitely be eating those ingredients) – the amount used in restaurant pestos is really excessive and ends up with 1000 calories in your pasta dish!

The other reason I was excited is that most “healthy” pesto recipes don’t taste very good… or are super complicated to make so almost aren’t worth the time. But then I found this great recipe from Hungry Girl for a pesto recipe that’s actually really tasty and super easy to make! The recipe with my notes are below, and you can find the original here. Thanks Hungry Girl!


  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fat-free ricotta cheese (I might have used a bit more than 1/4 cup)
  • 2 tbsp. reduced-fat Parmesan-style grated topping (I actually used freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The grated topping thing weirds me out because it’s usually full of processed ingredients)
  • 2 tbsp. pine nuts
  • 1 tsp. olive oil (I used EVOO)
  • 1 tsp. chopped garlic (I just used 2 cloves of garlic – might be more than 1 tsp but gave it great flavor)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt, or more to taste
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper, or more to taste
  • Frozen Spinach
  • Freshly grated Parmesan (to top your pasta dish)
  • Whole wheat rotini pasta (or any whole wheat pasta you like!)
  • Pasta water (save about 1-2 ladle-fulls after cooking the pasta – it helps to make the sauce even creamier!)
  • Note: The Hungry Girl recipe suggests you use this pesto with Tofu Shirataki Noodles to save calories. I personally love pasta and I think eating whole wheat pasta is a good enough substitution (plus the Tofu Noodles thing kind of weirds me out a bit too haha). So I’d recommend eating this pesto with whole wheat pasta – but feel free to try the Tofu Noodles if you like!


  1. To make the pesto sauce, put all ingredients (basil through black pepper in the list above) into a food processor and blend until smooth.
  2. Cook the pasta according to package directions, reserve 1-2 ladle fulls of pasta water to mix with the sauce.
  3. In a large pan, heated over medium heat, defrost the frozen spinach for 2-3 min. Add in the cooked pasta and pesto sauce, stir until blended. Add the pasta water a little at a time until you like the consistency and taste.
  4. Serve topped with 1-2 tsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese and a small sprinkling of pine nuts!

Nutritional Information: According to Hungry Girl, this portion of pesto + 2 packages of Tofu Shirataki Noodles is about 180 calories. The Tofu Noodles have 40 calories per package, so I’d estimate that this recipe for pesto is about 100 calories – which is great!!


Here is what the pesto looked like when it was almost done…

The frozen chopped spinach I used (I love that it’s organic!)

The ingredients all combined and almost ready to eat…

Dinner is served!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeanette January 10, 2011 at 5:10 am

I’ve never tried pesto with ricotta in it, but this sounds really nice and creamy. Love the addition of spinach for an extra healthy kick!


Belinda @zomppa January 10, 2011 at 5:55 am

Welcome back! Wow…this pesto packs a punch. Looks ueber tasty.


Sara January 10, 2011 at 9:20 am

Welcome back! Looking forward to hear everything about the trip! And thanks for sharing this pesto recipe. I love pesto and too many people think it’s hard to make while it’s not. Have a good week!


Kim-Liv Life January 10, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Ahhh!! I think I’d call this one Pesto Perfecto!! Nicely done. Welcome home!


suchitra January 11, 2011 at 9:19 am

Oh, wow! this looks simple and delicious πŸ™‚


mywanderingspoon January 11, 2011 at 11:44 am

Nice twist ….great job:)


Averill January 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Sounds delicious! The ricotta is a great idea.
I make pesto with spinach for my (9 year old) daughter all the time … and occasionally add edamame as well for a little protein. πŸ™‚


anjalim January 13, 2011 at 12:54 pm

Great idea to add the edamame! I’ll definitely have to try that next time πŸ™‚


Gary Murfin January 19, 2011 at 11:49 am


Nancy and I were on Wine Tour w/ you and your husband. Have a few pics to share. Drop a line with your email address.


Gary D. Murfin, Ph.D.
Seattle area


Shabnam October 15, 2013 at 8:25 am

thanks a lot. I cooked it last night and we enjoyed it a lot. it was great.


Anjali @ The Picky Eater October 16, 2013 at 7:39 am

So glad to hear it!


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