Open Arms of Minnesota

Weekly Recipe #220: Basil & Spinach Pesto

By Tim Baebenroth, Dietetic Intern [VA Medical Center]

One of the things that catches my eye every time I go to a farmers market is the fresh basil. Or maybe it catches my nose — the smell of basil is heavenly (If anyone sells basil-scented candles, please contact me!). When I have it around, I put basil pesto on just about everything: sandwiches, pasta, in salads, with meats and sausages, with cheeses, on crackers, or my personal favorite – on toast with scrambled eggs. Throw a slice of ham in there and you have a Dr. Seuss-approved meal. You could throw it on some little cherry tomatoes or roasted veggies for nice side salad too. Though typically made with pine nuts, I like the flavor the almonds better.

Basil & Spinach Pesto
Photo credit: Melissa Elkins

Fresh basil, like all other fresh herbs, is very low in calories. For its weight, it is low in calories, but still packed with vitamins, minerals, and other good for our health things like antioxidants. Basil is particularly rich in vitamin K, vitamin A, vitamin C, and magnesium. Vitamin K and vitamin A are both fat-soluble vitamins, so the fat from the oil and almonds in this recipe are incredibly useful in absorbing those important vitamins.

Basil & Spinach Pesto

Makes: ~1 ¼ cups = 10 2-tbsp. servings


  • 4 cups tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup tightly packed baby spinach leaves
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds
  • 1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (about 1 ounce)
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice (about 1/3 lemon)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp. kosher salt


  1. Toast the sliced almonds in a dry (no oil or liquid) sauté pan on the stove over medium heat until fragrant, about two minutes. Stir often to avoid burning.
  2. Combine basil, spinach, garlic and almonds in a food processor or blender. Pulse and stir until finely minced. As an old school alternative, use a mortar and pestle to pound everything until smooth.
  3. Add the cheese and lemon juice. Continue pulsing while slowly pouring in olive oil. Stir and make sure there are no big chunks of any ingredients.
  4. Season with salt to taste.
  5. If storing, cover tightly with plastic wrap, as any area exposed to air will turn a darker, less appealing green color.

Nutritional Information:

Per Serving: 129 calories; 1.5g total fat; 0g saturated fat; 2g protein, 1g carbohydrates, 1g dietary fiber, 130mg sodium

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