Easy Entertaining: Spinach and White Bean Pesto Sauce

by Maris Callahan on July 29, 2011

I know, back-to-back pasta sauces. But you see, it’s hot out. We need these sauces.

In the winter, it’s easy to make dinner for a big group of friends. You pop a pot on the stove and make a big batch of lemon basil marinara sauce or kalamata olive marinara sauce with your favorite pasta and you call it a day. In the summer, if you don’t have a grill or outdoor space your options are fairly limited.

Pasta is a cheap, easy way to feed a crowd but homemade sauces usually involve an open flame and when you have a dozen people in your apartment, the last thing you probably want is to be in the kitchen, sweating to the tune of a hot stove and oven.

Pesto is a perfect fix for summer entertaining because it’s simple, elegant and a little bit goes a long way – one batch will dress up to 2 pounds of pasta and if you don’t use it all, you can freeze individual 2-tablespoon portions in an ice cube tray for weeknight dinners.

This pesto is a little bit different than traditional pesto sauces that combine herbs, cheese and nuts for flavor. The base of this pesto is spinach and white beans, inspired by a dip recipe that I noticed in a magazine. It’s thicker than most pesto sauces, but also more filling and nutritious.

Spinach & White Bean Pesto Sauce

What You Need:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
1 15.5-ounce can cannellini beans, rinsed
2 1/2 cups spinach
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly torn
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 black pepper
Cooked pasta of your choice


In a food processor, combine the garlic oil, beans, spinach, dill, and lemon juice. Season with ¾ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper and puree until smooth. Serve over your favorite cooked pasta. Makes about 10 servings. To freeze: place in ice cube trays or a freezer safe container for up to a month.

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{ 51 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica July 29, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Pesto is awesome. And I love using it on sandwiches as well! The white beans are a great add in.


Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga July 29, 2011 at 2:32 pm

I love pesto sauce of any kind!


Laura @ SweetSavoryPlanet July 29, 2011 at 2:40 pm

White beans are truly one the most versatile beans. It makes a delicious snack or side dish and is so nutritious. Never actually put them in pesto but why the heck not!


natalie (the sweets life) July 29, 2011 at 2:49 pm

I love a unique pasta sauce–and anything that uses up basil is great in my book—my plant is out of control!


Wendy July 29, 2011 at 3:02 pm

What a great idea to use the beans! I will definitely be making this soon.


Junia July 29, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I love the idea of adding white beans! Good way to add in more fiber, protein, and make it creamier :)


Barbara July 29, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Keep the pasta sauces coming, Maris. Each one is different and delicious. I really like the bean and spinach mixture!


Kay July 29, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Oh yum this sounds great!


Kathleen July 29, 2011 at 4:25 pm

Love this!


Lisa from Lisas Yarns July 29, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Holy yum. That looks delish!! I usually take 1 day off each week from being dairy free – this might need to be my dairy vacation recipe one of these weeks!


Greg July 29, 2011 at 4:59 pm

What on earth is wrong with back to back pasta recipes. I love it!


Tara @ Chip Chip Hooray July 29, 2011 at 5:24 pm

Mmm, I love white bean anything! :)


Nelly Rodriguez July 29, 2011 at 5:35 pm

Perfect meal! Mmhmm…Pasta….


Roz July 29, 2011 at 5:42 pm

Hi Maris, ooooh…this looks delicous, healthy, economical and easy. In other words, a perfect dish!! Thanks as always for another stellar recipe. Have a great Friday!!!


Daryl (Mom) July 29, 2011 at 6:37 pm

This may have to go on the list of things you will make me next time you are home.


Ramona July 29, 2011 at 7:01 pm

Excellent combination and so healthy. Just stumbled across your blog. This gets bookmarked :)


bellini July 29, 2011 at 7:39 pm

Never thought to add beans inbto my pesto, that opens many new doors.


melissa@IWasBornToCook July 29, 2011 at 7:56 pm

Love this variation! I’m thinking I can get away with this one since the beans are unnoticeable…Frank will never know! :)


Reeni July 29, 2011 at 8:32 pm

What a unique pesto! I love it.


yummychunklet July 29, 2011 at 8:47 pm

I love sauces! So versatile and adaptable. Great recipe!


Baking Serendipity July 29, 2011 at 8:47 pm

This sounds fantastic! I am loving all the sauce recipes. I could eat pasta every day in every season with options like this :)


Kocinera July 30, 2011 at 12:42 am

I love that this pesto has spinach and beans in it. Two of my favorite things! :D Sounds delish!


Ruth July 30, 2011 at 1:57 am

You can never have enough weeknight meals – and this is a great one!


Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella July 30, 2011 at 2:32 am

This is a much healthier version of pesto Maris yet I can see how it is still flavoursome!


Candace July 30, 2011 at 6:19 am

What a great way to use white beans! My husband is the pasta fan in the house and I like it okay…but it needs to have something other than the traditional sauce to make it interesting for me. This sauce will work beautifully for that. Love it!


Sylvia@bascooking July 30, 2011 at 7:01 am

Pasta sauces are never too much. love your idea , looks delicious


Karen (Back Road Journal) July 30, 2011 at 7:31 am

What an interesting and delicious sounding pesto. I’ll be trying this recipe for sure.


Katrina @ In Katrina's Kitchen July 30, 2011 at 8:48 am

I love simple, hearty, healthy dishes like this. SO easy to whip up. Alot of bang for the effort. Thanks Maris! ♥- Katrina


5 Star Foodie July 30, 2011 at 8:51 am

An excellent sauce – the combination of spinach and white beans sounds very tasty with pasta!


Geni July 30, 2011 at 10:12 am

I am wholeheartedly in LOVE with this recipe. I can’t wait to make this for my book club. My friends will go crazy! So glad you shared it.


Chutneyandspice July 30, 2011 at 11:42 am

Sounds great, what a lovely take on a classic, and I love the fact it uses beans.


Tara July 30, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Pesto pasta is a favorite of mine! I haven’t had it in ages. i’ve never tried making it with beans though! Sounds like a delicious change.


Jenny at Baking Devils July 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Pesto is one of my favourite sauces for pasta and I this variation looks fab! Thanks for sharing your great ideas! Jenny


Natalie July 30, 2011 at 4:47 pm

I make a basil bean puree with butterbeans that I love but I never thought of making it into a pasta sauce. Will give it a try next time with some rocket I think, thanks!!


rebecca July 30, 2011 at 6:26 pm

wow very cool and inventive recipe and great for protein


peachkins July 30, 2011 at 7:34 pm

my three year old loves pesto. I have to try this recipe, let me see if she like it…thanks for sharing..


The Harried Cook July 31, 2011 at 1:08 am

Oh this sounds excellent! I must try this one, Maris! I love it… I think I have all the ingredients right now… Maybe for lunch! Thanks for sharing :)


Sweet Artichoke July 31, 2011 at 2:40 am

What a delicious pesto! I really like the idea of using cannellini beans in it!


Marina July 31, 2011 at 2:54 am

Pasta is my favorite meal :) It goes good with everything! :)


T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types July 31, 2011 at 5:10 am

A great new take on pesto – and nice that you can keep most of the ingredients on hand for a last minute gathering.


Pudding Pie Lane July 31, 2011 at 5:26 am

There’s nothing wrong with a good pasta sauce! Home made too, and yes that does look really nutritious!


EA-The Spicy RD July 31, 2011 at 10:11 am

Love, love, love pesto and your version with beans looks fabulous! I will definitely have to try the ice cube trick-have a friend that does that too, but I’ve never tried it. Try and stay cool :-)


Aimee @ Clever muffin July 31, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Love the use of beans in this, a nice healthy meal on a hot night.


Tiffany July 31, 2011 at 4:52 pm

This sounds really good! I am just know starting to like stuff with spinach in it. So I am interested and would love to try this!! Thanks for sharing!!


Anne@frommysweetheart July 31, 2011 at 5:29 pm

Maris…I love the idea of a spinach pesto….and in getting away from traditional tomato sauces in general! This looks delish. (Love the beans, too!)


Nicole, RD August 1, 2011 at 9:48 am

New to your blog and love it…I want to make it all! Can’t wait to gather more great recipes to try!!


lisa {smart food and fit} August 1, 2011 at 10:40 am

I like your pesto, it’s like a cross between a hummus and a pesto but much lower in calories and high in proten and fiber! My kind of recipe! Mmmm! :)


katelin August 1, 2011 at 7:00 pm

oh man, i need this in my life. this looks so simple, yet delicious! the best kind of sauce, haha.


shannon August 3, 2011 at 6:40 pm

this is fabulous! some of my favorite flavors are hanging out here :)


betty August 4, 2011 at 12:39 am

this looks delicous and healthy thanks for sharing :O)


Susan August 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm

This sounds delicious, Maris, and I have some rampant basil in the garden right now!


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