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The spectacular coastline of Italy is home to many of the country's most luxurious seaside resorts. It also lays claim to some disarmingly desolate stretches of coast where lush forests of lemon trees, herbs, pines and almonds create fragrant breezes. It is here that pesto was born - a classic combination of basil, nuts, olive oil and garlic.
Although a simple dish, the complexity of its flavor can be enhanced by adhering to the old ways. The word pesto is derived from the word pestle, which means to pound or grind. Traditionally, the ingredients were placed in a marble mortar and crushed using a wooden pestle. This enabled the mixture to be roughly ground so that the leaves were torn, allowing their flavor to fully develop.
Today few busy home chefs actually practice the traditional method, preferring the convenience of a food processor. But for those with true culinary curiosity, the extra effort can help bring out the full flavor potential of the dish.
This week's spinach pesto packs extra nutrition and an intense flavor into every bite. Combining spinach with the fresh basil adds a rich source of vitamins A, C and K, as well as folate and potassium.
Some higher-fat ingredients - grated cheese, nuts and oil - are also featured in this pesto. Although these are calorie-dense choices, they provide heart-healthy fat that is part of a healthy diet when eaten in moderation.
This recipe is further complemented by the pine nuts, which impart a sweet and buttery flavor. The eating of pine nuts, which are called pinoli in Italian, dates back to ancient Greece and Rome when they were commonly preserved in honey. Today pine nuts are frequently toasted to bring out their flavor and add a bit of crunch.
Spinach Pesto Pasta
Yield: Makes 8 servings.
310 calories11 g total fat1.5 g saturated fat 45 g carbohydrate
9 g protein 6 g dietary fiber260 mg sodium