Pea Tendril Pesto Pasta: What to do with greens from the CSA vegetable box

Want to get more greens into your diet?
Don’t know what to do the greens in your Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) box?
Tired of the same old meals?

This pesto pasta is the answer. Not only is this pesto delicious on pasta, it makes a fantastic sauce for chicken, fish, risotto, and bruschetta.

This pesto sauce if different from the ones I have had in American Italian restaurants. Those tend to be too garlicky and strong. This pesto is fresh and bright tasting. Best of all, it whips up quickly in a blender. I have included a recipe below, but you really don’t need a recipe; just throw in what you have on hand and let taste be your guide until it’s just as you like it.

Here’s what it looks like in the blender:20130327-161019.jpg

I learned how to make pesto pasta from a chef named Yael, who is a mom at my children’s school. She organized a cooking class to help other parents use all the vegetables that came in our CSA produce box. I tasted her pesto pasta, and thought it was fantastic. The next step was to see if my kids would like it.

I had no idea if my kids would eat pesto pasta, but I was hopeful since they love pasta. I decided to play it cool and acted normal as I served pesto pasta with a brave, smiling face. My younger child (who was four years old at the time) looked at it and declared that she wasn’t going to eat it. My older daughter tried it and said she liked it. With the older daughter on board, the four-year-old changed her mind and gave it a try. She liked it as well. I secretly had some mini pizzas in the toaster oven as a back up; luckily they weren’t needed, but I did serve them as well. I was happy and relieved when this dish became an instant hit with the whole family. Now it’s a family favorite and a part of our regular dinner repertoire.

Pea Tendril Pesto on Spaghetti
I especially love pesto made with pea tendrils, the leaves from the pea plant. The leaves and stems are tender with a subtle sweet pea flavor. There’s no stem to remove, and no bitterness to counter balance. Nevertheless, any leafy green works well in pesto. I also like pesto made with spinach, fava bean tendrils, or broccoli rabe. If you don’t know what to do with a leafy green, just throw it into this sauce.

All these leafy greens were new to me when I started receiving our school’s CSA produce box. Having so many new vegetables in the house forced me to come up with new recipes, like this one. Most of the new dishes have been added to our regular dinner line up, and we are enjoying the increased variety. Why not add more variety into your meals too?


Spinach Pesto Pasta
Recipe type: main dish
Cuisine: Italian
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 6 (Makes 2 cups of pesto sauce)
This pesto sauce is delicious on pasta, fish, chicken, risotto, or bruschetta. The recipe is flexible, so feel free to substitute with the ingredients that you have on hand. This recipe is adapted from my friend Yael.
  • 1 lb. pasta, like dried spaghetti or fresh tubular pasta
  • 6 ounces of pea tendrils (about 7 cups) or 1 bunch of leafy greens like spinach, fava bean tendrils or broccoli rabe
  • 2 tablespoons of toasted pine nuts (or any nut such as walnuts)
  • 5 extra large fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • ⅔ c. of pasta water (or broth)
  • A few grinds of pepper
  • A large pinch of salt
  • Optional for the pesto sauce—¼ onion, chopped and 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • Optional mix-in's for the pasta dish: cooked chicken, shrimp, peas, green beans, or asparagus.
  • Toppings for the pasta dish: Parmesan cheese and pine nuts
  1. Boil pea tendrils in a large pot of salted water for 2-3 minutes until tender. Drain in a colander, squeeze out excess water, and set aside to cool a little.
  2. Once the pea tendrils and water are removed from the pot, use the same pot to cook the pasta. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente. Reserve a little more than ½ c. pasta water. Drain and return pasta to the pot.
  3. Optional- sauté onion and garlic in a little olive oil until soft. Set aside.
  4. While the pasta is cooking, make the pesto sauce. Place the following ingredients in a blender: pine nuts, basil leaves, parmesan cheese, olive oil, cooked pea tendrils, ⅓ cup pasta water, salt, pepper, and optional cooked onion and garlic. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust ingredients as needed. Thin with more pasta water to desired consistency. I usually use about ½ cup pasta water, but it depends on how many leafy greens you have.
  5. Optional: add cooked chicken, shrimp or vegetables to the pot with the cooked pasta.
  6. Pour the pesto sauce on the pasta and toss gently. Serve warm.
  7. Top with generous sprinkles of parmesan cheese and pine nuts.
The pesto recipe can easily be doubled. I like to freeze extra sauce to use later. Another tasty variation is to put a little lemon zest in the pea tendril pesto sauce.



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5 Responses to Pea Tendril Pesto Pasta: What to do with greens from the CSA vegetable box

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