As anyone who loves to cook knows all too well, it can be easy to get overly wrapped up in a weekend cooking project. That flood of gourmet cooking magazines and round-the-clock food television programming can make it seem like if we don’t spend six days brining our own corned beef to make pastrami, or slave away for hours rubbing salt into hand-cut Napa cabbage to make our own kimchi, we’re somehow not living up to our potential as dedicated amateur cooks.
When cancer comes calling, however, all of that can change abruptly. Not only is your time and energy suddenly at much more of a premium, but changes in appetite and aroma and flavor perception make the effort needed to craft more extreme dishes seem much harder to muster. For any patient undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatment, or recovering from a recent surgery, sometimes it’s good to remember those tried-and-true flavor combinations that can produce a winning dish without requiring such a massive expenditure of time and effort.
This simple pasta combines all of the things we love in a light Italian-inspired dish: The fresh pop of herbs, the light drizzle of oil, the slight melt of the mozzarella, which pulls into thin ribbons as you toss the cooked pasta. But it also packs a cancer-fighting wallop. Instead of the traditional (and pricey!) basil and pine nuts used in a regular pesto, we swap in fresh spinach and walnuts. You get the same vibrant color and slight nutty flavor, but with the additional health benefits of spinach, a legendarily powerful superfood. Spinach is loaded with vitamin C and beta carotene, which according to the National Institutes of Health, may help protect against certain kinds of cancer
. One cup of fresh spinach leaves also provides almost double the recommended daily allowance of vitamin K, which helps keep bones healthy and strengthens the cardiovascular system.
Spinach Pesto Pasta With Mozzarella and Blistered Tomatoes
For the pesto:
- 4 cups fresh baby spinach
- 1/4 cup toasted walnuts
- 1 oz grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 small garlic clove, chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
For the pasta:
- 1 12 oz box penne pasta
- 2 cups cherry tomatoes
- 3 cups fresh baby spinach
- 8 oz fresh mozzarella “pearls” or baby mozzarella balls
For the pesto:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine spinach, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic and lemon juice. With the food processor running, slowly stream in olive oil. Continue processing until pesto is smooth.
For the pasta:
Preheat broiler on “high.” Arrange cherry tomatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until tomatoes begin to blacken in spots and burst open, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy cooking liquid, then drain pasta and return to the pot. Add 1 cup of the prepared spinach pesto, plus a splash of the pasta cooking liquid to help bind the sauce to the pasta. Add roasted cherry tomatoes, fresh spinach and mozzarella. Toss until fresh spinach wilts and cheese starts to melt. Serve immediately.