Spinach is one of the better known leafy greens, and it deserves all the attention it gets! Just one cup of raw spinach leaves is an excellent source of vitamins A and K, and a good source of vitamin C, folate, and the mineral manganese. Plus, as a dark, leafy green, it’s full of carotenoids like lutein and zeaxanthin for healthy eyes. There are lots of varieties of spinach, but savoy spinach is the most common variety for spring. It has big, crinkled, hearty leaves that are sturdy but tender.
Spinach seeds should be planted in the ground about 6 weeks before the last frost, or as soon as the ground is thawed enough to work with. It is normally harvested 4-6 weeks after planting. Savoy spinach grows in bunches and prefers cool weather, so it’s typically all harvested by the end of spring. Then, you can plant again in late August for a fall harvest, too!
Savoy spinach can certainly be eaten raw as the base for a salad, but this particular variety of spinach does best when cooked at least a little. The leaves are big and hearty, compared to the baby spinach that many people use in salads. We grow lots of spinach at the Barn, and the kids always love making our fabulous Spinach Pesto Pasta after they harvest fresh spinach from the garden. It’s a delicious, fiber-filled alternative to the more standard basil pesto, and it always gets double thumbs up!
Spinach Pesto Pasta
From Appetite for Life, by Stacey Antine, MS, RD
The secret ingredient in this pesto is raw sunflower seeds instead of the traditional pine nuts, which are more expensive and higher in fat. We also use spinach instead of basil, and whole wheat pasta so that it’s high in fiber. This pasta dish is a favorite lunch item with kids because it tastes so good, and it’s popular with parents because it’s so good for kids! Spinach is easy to grow, so this is the perfect recipe for anyone interested in starting a school or backyard garden. If you have a shovel in one hand, make sure you have a fork in the other, because this pesto dish disappears quickly!
Kids can add pesto ingredients to food processor and pulse.
1 package (13.25 ounces) whole wheat penne or rotelle pasta
2 cups packed spinach leaves
¼ cup hulled raw sunflower seeds
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
¼ teaspoon sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons low-sodium vegetable broth (or water)
1. In a large saucepot of boiling water, cook pasta as label directs. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain pasta. Set pasta aside in a large bowl.
2. In a food processor or blender, combine the spinach leaves, sunflower seeds, Parmesan, sea salt, pepper, and garlic; pulse until finely chopped. With the processor running, gradually add the oil and broth through feed tube to form a smooth, thick mixture.
3. Add spinach pesto to pasta in a bowl and toss until evenly coated. If mixture is too thick, stir in enough reserved pasta cooking water to reach the desired consistency.
Makes 8 servings (1 cup per serving)
Nutrition Facts per serving: 240 calories; 7g fat (1g sat fat, 3g mono, 2g poly, 0g trans fat); 0mg cholesterol; 37g carbohydrate (5g fiber, 2g sugar); 8g protein; 75mg sodium; 4% Daily Value (DV) vitamin A; 2% DV vitamin C; 6% DV calcium; 10% DV iron
What’s your favorite way of eating spinach?