I’ve been increasingly intrigued with eating food that’s minimally cooked. Not raw, exactly, but barely cooked, retaining more of the nutrients that can be lost through high heat. I’ve never liked overcooked vegetables, like broccoli that emerges from the pot a dull shade of olive. My mom used to serve it, and it was both tasteless and disagreeably mushy, turning me off this great vegetable for years. Now I’m a quick sauté-er, preferring broccoli that’s both emerald green and crunchy.
But lately I’m thinking more about how to cook vegetables even less, inspired by reading The World’s Healthiest Foods. This is a huge compendium of fresh, whole foods that rates them according to nutrient content and suggests the best and healthiest ways to cook – or not cook – them.
Some of the recipes I’ve been preparing for years are, in fact, almost raw. For example, I’ve been making spinach pesto for about 20 years. A guy I knew when I lived in New York City – an actor who also worked in a restaurant; such a cliché! – showed me how to make it. The spinach is blanched with boiling water, and the water retained to help thin out the pesto. I serve it with organic, whole-grain pasta, and, amazingly, I’ve never grown tired of it over the years. It’s one of those dishes people always want the recipe for.
So here it is. It’s great for a night when you get home late and need a really quick meal with things you have on hand. It also freezes well.
2 bunches spinach leaves, cleaned (or one 11-oz. box of pre-washed baby spinach leaves)
¼ cup walnuts
2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped roughly (or up to 4 or 5, if you like a lot of garlic, which I do)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ to ½ cup grated Romano cheese
Black pepper to taste
Boil a tea kettle full of water. Place the washed spinach leaves in a colander over a bowl. When the water boils, pour it slowly over the leaves to blanch; reserve the collected water.
In a blender, grate the walnuts, garlic, and olive oil until they’re a smooth paste. Add the spinach leaves in bunches and blend until fully integrated and smooth (it will be a delightful emerald green). If you have trouble getting it smooth, add a tablespoon or two of the reserved spinach water, and blend again.
Empty the pesto into a bowl or container, mix in the cheese (start with ¼ cup and add until you get a consistency you like), and season with black pepper to taste. Makes 4-6 servings for pasta.