Hetty McKinnon's spinach and walnut pesto pasta

Hetty McKinnon says frozen spinach is the magic ingredient in this simple vegetarian pasta.
Hetty McKinnon says frozen spinach is the magic ingredient in this simple vegetarian pasta. Photo: William Meppem

This pasta dish is fresh and surprisingly herbaceous, even though it contains no herbs at all. Frozen spinach is the magic ingredient, providing earthy flavour while delivering a healthy dose of green power. Frozen spinach also turns out to be a fantastic and economical way to make pesto all year round. A small handful of walnuts adds richness and body to the irresistible pasta sauce while lemon zest and juice injects life and brightness into this crowd-pleasing dish.


500g linguine, spaghetti or other pasta shape

extra virgin olive oil

pinch of chilli flakes

Spinach and walnut pesto

45g (⅓ cup) chopped walnuts

1 large garlic clove, chopped

60ml (¼ cup) extra virgin olive oil

250g frozen spinach, defrosted

1 tsp sea salt

zest and juice of 1 lemon

Cost breakdown

Spaghetti $2.40

Chilli flakes $0.05

Walnuts $1.58

Garlic $0.08

Frozen spinach $1.80

Lemons $0.84

Total $6.75


1. To make the pesto, heat a small frypan on medium-low heat and add the walnuts. Toss for about 2 minutes, until the nuts are fragrant and toasted. Remove from the heat immediately.

2. Squeeze out any excess liquid from the defrosted spinach.

3. Add the walnuts, garlic, oil and 80ml (⅓ cup) water to a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Next add the spinach and salt, and blend until smooth (if the mixture is too thick, add another splash of water). Pour the pesto into a bowl and stir through the lemon zest and half the lemon juice. Taste and if needed, season with more sea salt.

4. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add the pasta and cook according to packet instructions, until al dente. Drain the pasta, retaining 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Add the spinach pesto to the drained pasta, along with a good drizzle of olive oil and enough pasta cooking water to loosen everything up. Season with sea salt and black pepper. To serve, sprinkle with red chilli flakes and squeeze over the remaining lemon juice.

Also try: Hetty McKinnon's pear streusel

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