Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach

I bought a little jar of pesto recently and have been having fun finding ways to add it to everyday recipes. Yesterday I noticed a half bag of macaroni that had been sitting in my pantry for a few months and I just knew it was begging for the pesto treatment. So, I whipped up a quick béchamel sauce, stirred in some grated Romano (Parmesan will also work), and a good dollop of pesto. I poured the luxurious sauce over my cooked macaroni and a couple handfuls of thawed frozen spinach (because I’m all about balance), and had myself the most delicious and creamy pesto mac. 

Pesto is definitely an expensive ingredient, but it’s so potent that you really don’t need a lot to add big flavor to your recipes. The little jar I bought contains about 3/4 cup pesto and cost $3.99. I’ve used about 1/4 cup in each recipe so far, but if you can’t find uses for your leftovers immediately, pesto can be frozen. A lot of people like to spoon it into ice cube trays so they can grab a couple tablespoons at a time to toss into recipes like pasta, salad dressings, and other sauces.

What’s in store for my last 1/4 cup of pesto? I dunno… but I haven’t made a pizza in a while. ;)

See This Recipe in Action:

 

Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach

Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach - BudgetBytes.com

4.53 from 21 votes
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Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach

This simple creamy sauce packs huge flavor thanks to a small dollop of basil pesto. Creamy Pesto Mac is creamy comfort with some hidden vegetables, too!

Total Cost $4.05 reicpe / $0.68 serving
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6 (1 cup each)

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked macaroni $0.50
  • 2 Tbsp butter $0.22
  • 2 Tbsp flour $0.02
  • 2 cups whole milk $0.60
  • 1/2 cup grated Romano or Parmesan $0.53
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto $1.33
  • 1/2 tsp salt $0.02
  • Freshly cracked pepper $0.03
  • 1/2 lb frozen spinach $0.80

Instructions

  1. Thaw the spinach at room temperature or in the microwave. Squeeze out the excess water. Set the spinach aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add the macaroni noodles. Boil for 7-10 minutes, or until al dente. Drain the macaroni in a colander.
  2. While the pasta is boiling, prepare the sauce. Add the butter and flour to a small sauce pot. Heat and stir the butter and flour over medium heat until it forms a creamy paste and begins to bubble. Continue to stir and cook for about one minute more.
  3. Whisk the milk into the butter and flour, then allow it to come up to a simmer, while whisking. When it reaches a simmer, the sauce will thicken. Remove the sauce from the heat.
  4. Whisk the Romano (or Parmesan) and pesto into the sauce until smooth. This will further thicken the sauce. Season the sauce with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Make sure the sauce is well seasoned as the flavors will be less concentrated once the pasta and spinach are stirred in.
  5. Return the cooked and drained pasta to the large pot (heat turned off) and add the thawed spinach. Pour the sauce over top, then stir until everything is combined and coated in sauce. Serve immediately.

Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach - BudgetBytes.com

Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach - BudgetBytes.com

Step by Step Photos

Okay, so I forgot to get a shot of the pasta cooking, but we all know what that looks like, right? Just imagine large pot of water boiling, then me pouring in 2 cups of uncooked macaroni noodles. Boil that imaginary macaroni for 7-10 minutes, or until it’s al dente (tender but not mushy). Drain the pasta in a colander. Also thaw 1/2 lb. spinach and then squeeze out some of the excess water. It doesn’t have to be bone-dry, just make sure it’s not sopping wet.

Butter and Flour

While the macaroni is cooking, you can start the sauce. Place 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp flour into a small sauce pot. Heat them over a medium flame while stirring…

Blonde Roux

Until it forms a creamy paste and starts to bubble up. Once bubbling, continue to stir and cook for about a minute. This mixture is called a roux (this is a blonde roux, in particular) and is used to thicken the sauce. Cooking it for a minute or so slightly toasts the flour so that you don’t have that raw paste-like flavor to your sauce.

Whisk in Milk

Whisk in two cups of whole milk. Let the mixture come to a simmer, whisking occasionally to make sure the milk doesn’t scorch on the bottom.

Thickened Milk

Once the milk starts simmering, that’s when the roux magic happens. The milk will thicken slightly. It won’t be as thick as a cheese sauce at this point, but it should have noticeably more body. Turn the heat off.

Grated Romano

Whisk in 1/2 cup grated Romano or Parmesan. The cheese will help thicken the sauce even more. I accidentally grabbed Romano instead of Parmesan the last time I was at the store, but Parmesan will also work. I think Parmesan has a slightly more bold flavor.

Basil Pesto

Then whisk in 1/4 cup basil pesto.

Salt and Pepper

Finally, season the sauce with salt and freshly cracked pepper. You want the sauce to be pretty heavily seasoned because it will taste less concentrated once the pasta and spinach are stirred in. I used 1/2 tsp salt and about 5-10 cranks of a pepper mill.

Combine Pasta Spinach and Sauce

Return the cooked and drained pasta to the large pot it was cooked in, add the thawed and squeezed spinach, then pour the creamy sauce over top.

Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach - BudgetBytes.com

Then stir all that creamy pesto goodness together. Oh my.

 

Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach - BudgetBytes.com

I’ll just say it one more time, then leave it there… Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach–OH MY.

(Our leftover rotisserie chicken made a really nice add-in for this pasta, too!)

Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach - BudgetBytes.com