Pasta

Healthy Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini, Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes

Healthy Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini, Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes  |  Lemon & Mocha

It’s hard to know exactly when my pasta obsession began, but it’s at least as far back as I can remember. My brother and I used to have noodles with every dinner and we would even stuff it inside pita pockets sometimes. Yes, essentially a noodle sandwich. Yes, we were odd. I think most people tend to love pasta to some degree. I mean, how can you not? It’s simple, starchy and satisfying.

Healthy Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini, Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes  |  Lemon & Mocha

Somewhere down the line I decided pasta was a cheat meal. Matt and I would go weeks without having pasta for dinner. Then this past year, especially while preparing for my healthy January posts, I started thinking a lot about what healthy food means to me and came to the conclusion that I needed to remove the pasta cheat meal mentality. Instead of nixing pasta completely I needed to rebalance my pasta meal. A plate piled high with just spaghetti, marinara and cheese could be replaced with a smaller portion of pasta loaded with veggies. But still cheese. There always has to be cheese.

Healthy Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini, Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes  |  Lemon & Mocha

Since then Matt and I have been enjoying weeknight pasta, happily and healthily – at least with what healthy means to me. I now have three favorite healthy pasta hacks, two of which I have shared on Lemon & Mocha before. One is all the different types of alternative pasta on the market. I personally tend not to enjoy whole wheat pasta, but I have gladly embraced rice pasta, red lentil pasta, green bean pasta and, my new favorite, Barilla Veggie Spaghetti. No, this is not sponsored, it just tastes really good and is made with 25% vegetable puree making it slightly better for you than regular spaghetti. That is what I used in this recipe, but you can use any type of spaghetti you prefer.

Healthy Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini, Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes  |  Lemon & Mocha

My second hack I want to share is adding cauliflower puree to make pasta sauces creamy. I used this tasty trick in the Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan recipe and it works just as well here to create a rich pesto cream sauce without any actual cream. My third healthy pasta tip that I also shared with my Winter Pesto Pasta recipe is swapping out some of the pasta for zucchini noodles.

Healthy Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini, Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes  |  Lemon & Mocha

In addition to all those yummy ingredients I’ve kept it simple with some spinach, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and of course Parmesan. This healthy creamy pesto pasta comes together really quickly making it a great weeknight meal. Keep it vegetarian or eat with some meatballs or chicken sausage. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

Healthy Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini, Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes  |  Lemon & Mocha

Healthy Creamy Pesto Pasta with Zucchini, Spinach and Sun-dried Tomatoes
 
Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients
  • 6 ounces spaghetti (I used Barilla Veggie Spaghetti)
  • 1 cup frozen cauliflower florets
  • ⅓ cup pesto
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 ounces fresh spinach
  • 2 zucchinis, noodled; about 2.5 cups
  • ⅔ cup julienned sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ⅓ cup fresh grated Parmesan, plus more for topping
  • Fresh chopped basil for garnish
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. Boil water for the pasta in a large pot. Once the water is boiling, add the spaghetti and set your timer according to the package instructions (mine was for 9 minutes). When there are 6 minutes left on your timer, add the cauliflower florets. When the timer goes off, drain the pasta and cauliflower, being sure to reserve 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Carefully separate out the cauliflower florets. In a high-speed blender, puree the cooked cauliflower florets, reserved cooking liquid and the pesto until smooth. Alternatively you could puree the cauliflower then just stir it into the pesto if you like the texture of the pesto and don’t want it completely smooth.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the spinach and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost wilted then add the zucchini noodles and the sun-dried tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper; sauté for 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 30 seconds then remove from the heat.
  3. Add the pesto mixture, the spaghetti and the Parmesan to the sauté pan. Toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Serve topped with additional Parmesan and fresh chopped basil.

 

Winter Pesto Pasta

Winter Pesto Pasta  |  Lemon & Mocha

Winter Pesto Pasta is a cozy dish loaded with roasted butternut squash and mushrooms that is sure to warm you up during these chilly winter days. Whenever Matt and I are craving pasta I like to load it up with lots of veggies and I love the ease and the taste of roasted vegetables, especially in the wintertime.

Winter Pesto Pasta  |  Lemon & Mocha

I also used a mix of spaghetti and zucchini noodles to sneak in even more vegetables. You can spiralize the zucchini yourself or pretty much every grocery store now sells spiralized vegetable noodles. The best part is that you just throw them into the water when the pasta is almost done cooking so it could not be easier to add zucchini noodles into your pasta dishes. You could keep the meal vegetarian, but I served it alongside my Baked Pesto Turkey Meatballs – love those!

Winter Pesto Pasta  |  Lemon & Mocha

The star of the whole dish, though, is the quick and easy homemade pesto. I love tomato sauce, but we are both way more into pesto around here. My favorite seed butter company, 88 Acres, which is a local Massachusetts company, sent me some of their new products to try in exchange for sharing them on Instagram. The exchange didn’t involve my blog at all; I’m purely sharing this here because their new product prompted me to discover my new favorite homemade pesto hack.

Winter Pesto Pasta  |  Lemon & Mocha

Instead of grinding down seeds or nuts to use in the pesto, I just used some of their new no-sugar added pumpkin seed butter. I combined the pumpkin seed butter, basil, Parmesan, garlic powder, a little olive oil and some salt to taste. It was creamy, flavor-packed and saved me from having to buy pricey pine nuts.

Winter Pesto Pasta  |  Lemon & Mocha

I’m excited to try this new hack with other seed butters! I would recommend using one that has no-sugar added though to avoid adding sugar to your pesto. You could also try making this pesto with roasted pumpkin seeds and adding more olive oil, which I’m sure would be really good, too. Do you like experimenting with different types of pesto or do you have a go-to one you make all the time?

Winter Pesto Pasta  |  Lemon & Mocha

Winter Pesto Pasta
 
Yield: 2 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 cup small diced butternut squash
  • 6 medium whole cremini mushrooms, stems removed and quartered
  • 2½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • ¼ teaspoon dried oregano
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder, divided
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces spaghetti
  • 1 cup fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons no-sugar added pumpkin seed butter
  • 2 tablespoons fresh grated Parmesan, plus more for topping
  • 1 zucchini, zoodled
  • Baked Pesto Turkey Meatballs, optional
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with nonstick aluminum foil or parchment paper and place the butternut squash cubes and quartered mushrooms in a single layer. Toss the veggies with ½ tablespoon of olive oil then sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon dried oregano, ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder, ⅛ teaspoon salt and some fresh ground black pepper. Roast the veggies for 25 minutes, or until tender and slightly caramelized, tossing once halfway through baking.
  2. Cook the spaghetti according to the package instructions. When the spaghetti is 2 minutes away from being done, toss in the zucchini noodles. Drain the spaghetti and the zucchini noodles together once tender in a colander.
  3. While the water is coming to a boil for the pasta, make the pesto. Combine the basil, Parmesan, pumpkin seed butter, the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, ⅛ teaspoon garlic powder and salt to taste in a food processor. Add more olive oil if needed, about 1 tablespoon more. Pulse until smooth.
  4. When the spaghetti and zucchini noodles have been drained, add them back to the pot along with the pesto, butternut squash and mushrooms. Toss to combine. Serve with fresh grated Parmesan on top and baked pesto turkey meatballs, if desired.

 

Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan

Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan  |  Lemon & Mocha

Two years ago, Matt and I went to California for our one year wedding anniversary. Our first stop was Los Angeles to visit Hollywood, tour movie studios, and, most importantly, eat all the food. On our last night in LA, we went to this Italian restaurant near our hotel called Jon & Vinny’s. Thankfully I had called ahead because when we got to the restaurant there was huge line, but they sat us right at the counter where we could watch all the chefs make the homemade pastas and pizzas. Watching the food be made had us drooling and we ate our way through fresh burrata, incredible pastas and a warm baked bread pudding. We also had our only celebrity sighting of the trip eating dinner there – Gillian Jacobs!

Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan  |  Lemon & Mocha

The next morning we both woke up thinking about Jon & Vinny’s. We couldn’t stop thinking about firstly, how delicious it was, and secondly, how much we regretted not ordering a pizza since they looked so good the night before. I finally went to their website and saw that not only were they open for brunch (on a weekday – that’s LA for you), but they also had pizza on their brunch menu! Matt and I headed straight to Jon & Vinny’s and gorged ourselves on bomboloni (Italian filled doughnuts), Nutella and olive oil toast and of course, homemade pizza. Ever since our back-to-back meals, Matt and I joke about heading to LA for the weekend just to eat at Jon & Vinny’s and we probably will do it one of these days.

Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan  |  Lemon & Mocha

In the meantime, I was so excited to discover the recipe for their fusilli alla vodka with basil and Parmesan on Bon Appetit’s website! I decided I wanted to be able to enjoy the meal at home more regularly instead of just once in a while as a treat so I made a few changes to turn the dish into a skinny version. This Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan has all the flavors of the classic dish complete with plenty of cheese on top, but I’ve made a few swaps.

Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan  |  Lemon & Mocha

The biggest is that cauliflower puree is being substituted for the heavy cream. As I learned with the sun-dried tomato sauce from the Chicken Schnitzel and Pesto Spaetzle dish, cauliflower puree is a creamy, flavorful and incredibly healthy substitute for heavy cream.

Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan  |  Lemon & Mocha

I also reduced the amount of pasta and replaced it with some chicken and spinach. The end result is so delicious that I think Matt and I could eat it for every meal… at least until we get back to LA to eat our weight in the authentic version!

Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan  |  Lemon & Mocha

Skinny Chicken Fusilli Alla Vodka with Basil, Spinach and Parmesan
 
Yield: 4 servings
Ingredients
  • ⅔ cup chicken broth, vegetable broth or water
  • 1 cup cauliflower florets, about 7-8 medium-large florets
  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ shallot, minced
  • 1 small garlic clove, finely minced
  • ½ cup tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 2 cups fresh spinach leaves
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 8 ounces fusilli
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 ounce fresh grated Parmesan, about ¼ cup, plus more for serving
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Cooking spray
Directions
  1. Make the cauliflower puree. Bring the chicken broth, vegetable broth or water to a boil. Add the cauliflower florets, cover and reduce heat to low. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Transfer the cauliflower and liquid to a high-speed blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
  2. Spray a large skillet with nonstick cooking spray then heat over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the chicken pieces in a single layer and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees F, turning and stirring the chicken in the pan as needed. Remove from the pan and carefully wipe the pan.
  3. Heat the olive oil in the same pan over medium heat. Add the shallot and garlic and cook until softened, about 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste and cook until the paste starts to caramelize, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the vodka and stir constantly until the liquid is mostly evaporated, about 2 minutes. Add the pureed cauliflower, spinach leaves and the red pepper flakes. Stir to combine and let the spinach wilt. Remove the pan from the heat, but leave everything in the pan.
  4. Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta liquid.
  5. Place the skillet back over medium low heat and add the pasta, ½ cup of the pasta liquid, 1 tablespoon butter and the cooked chicken. Cook and stir until the butter has melted and it has formed a thick sauce. If it is too thick, add some more pasta water. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Divide between 4 bowls and top with the basil and more Parmesan.
Notes
The vodka sauce can be made 5 days in advance. Cover and store in the fridge.
Use any type of pasta you prefer. We used pasta with added protein.

Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit.

Mini Raviolis with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Goat Cheese

Mini Raviolis with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Goat Cheese  |  Lemon & Mocha

Why do mini food items always taste better? Does their cuteness enhance their deliciousness? Or is it that knowing you can eat more of the tiny bites makes them even more irresistible? Whatever the reason may be, the mini raviolis in this dish certainly increase the tasty factor.

Mini Raviolis with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Goat Cheese  |  Lemon & Mocha

And using store-bought raviolis and prepared sauce is a winning weeknight dinner combination. This pasta meal was an unplanned dish born from the ingredients in my fridge, but I was so happy with the results I decided to share it here on Lemon & Mocha.

Mini Raviolis with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Goat Cheese  |  Lemon & Mocha

The sautéed garlic, shallots and sun-dried tomatoes tend to be my go-to pasta trifecta. They are the perfect base to almost any pasta dish, providing full-packed savory flavoring.

Mini Raviolis with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Goat Cheese  |  Lemon & Mocha

The fresh spinach leaves are a great way to sneak in some veggies and are a great pairing for the ricotta-filled raviolis. The goat cheese adds a depth and creaminess to regular prepared sauce, almost giving it the taste of a vodka sauce.

Mini Raviolis with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Goat Cheese  |  Lemon & Mocha

Feel free to swap out the spinach and use your favorites veggies to mix and match this pasta dish. I think asparagus and mushrooms or eggplant and zucchini would both be delicious variations. I might have to go give them a try!

Mini Raviolis with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Goat Cheese  |  Lemon & Mocha

Mini Raviolis with Sun-dried Tomatoes, Spinach & Goat Cheese
 
Yield: 6-8 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes, julienned
  • 12 ounces fresh spinach leaves
  • 2 ounces goat cheese, regular or garlic & herb
  • 1-2 cups prepared tomato sauce, depending on sauciness preference
  • 1 pound mini raviolis, prepared according to package instructions
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, if desired, for serving
Directions
  1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the minced shallot and cook, stirring frequently, until the shallot has softened and started to lightly brown.
  2. Add the sun-dried tomatoes and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the spinach leaves, a handful or so at a time, stirring often, until all the spinach has been aded and wilted.
  3. Stir in the goat cheese until melted. Add the tomato sauce and stir until warm.
  4. Carefully stir in the prepared mini raviolis until coated. Serve hot with freshly grated Parmesan, if desired.

 

Diane’s Orzo Pasta Salad

Diane's Orzo Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

My stepmom’s orzo pasta salad is a delicious regular at all our family barbecues. It has a great combination of ingredients with the saltiness from the feta cheese and the sweetness from the bell peppers and grape tomatoes. Also whole olives which olive lovers enjoy and non-olive lovers rejoice that they can easily pick them out and plop them on their fellow olive lovers’ plates.

Diane's Orzo Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

The best part is the orzo tossed in the simple vinaigrette. What is orzo? Although it may be shaped like rice pilaf, orzo is a pasta. It is typically made with semolina flour, which is denser than white flour and helps the orzo keep its shape and bite after being cooked. This makes it the perfect choice for a make ahead pasta salad since most traditional pasta can get mushy from sitting in a vinaigrette overnight. Not this dish!

Diane's Orzo Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

My stepmom has been making this exact winning combination of ingredients for the Greek orzo pasta salad for years so it would be ill-advised to mess with the best.

Diane's Orzo Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

However, as with any pasta salad one of the beauties is that with a good base and vinaigrette you can mix and match according to your own tastes and preferences.

Diane's Orzo Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

Not a feta fan? Swap in some goat cheese. Not big on bell peppers? Toss in some sliced snow peas. The possibilities are endless! But make sure you try this possibility first :)

Diane's Orzo Pasta Salad  |  Lemon & Mocha

Diane's Orzo Pasta Salad
 
Yield: 8-10 servings
Ingredients
  • 1 pound box orzo, cooked as directed being sure not to overcook
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into ¼” by 1” pieces
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, cut into ¼” by 1” pieces
  • 1 orange bell pepper, cut into ¼” by 1” pieces
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into ¼” by 1” pieces
  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 4-5 leaves fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 can large black olives, drained
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 8 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper
Directions
  1. In a large bowl combine the cooked orzo with the olive oil until completely coated. Add the bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. Mix until combined.
  2. Mix in the feta cheese. Adjust salt and pepper according to taste. Refrigerate until serving, making sure to mix well before serving.