A few weeks ago, my husband and I took our first trip to the spectacular country of Italy. It was an unforgettable trip filled with exploring old villages, hiking the breathtaking Cinque Terre and, of course, eating. The Northern region of Italy where we stayed is known as the Liguria region, with a cuisine rich in seafood, seasonal vegetables, risottos, and homemade pastas. Pesto, a worldwide favorite, also proudly originates from this Italian region.
It should go without saying that the pesto I ate during this trip was amazing. This trip also got me thinking not only about pesto but all the variations and ways to incorporate pesto in the kitchen. I already have a pretty basic pesto recipe that I use quite often but I wanted to come up with something different. So I decided to include some of my favorite foods, such as arugula and white beans, into a creamy delicious vegan version of pesto. This pesto is vegan, low calorie, and also provides a good source of protein due to the beans.
Generally, Americans eat way too much protein but including a little bit of protein at every meal and snack can be beneficial. Protein helps to fill you up and keep you full. Incorporating healthy sources of protein every time you eat can make a big difference in keeping your energy levels up and weight off. Unprocessed fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and low fat dairy all contain protein. White beans, for example, provide a great source of protein which is why I added them to this version of low calorie, vegan pesto.
Arugula & White Bean Pesto
Makes 1.75 cups, 14 servings (serving size: 2 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 lemon, juiced
4 cups arugula
8 basil leaves
1 (15 ounce) can cannellini beans or 1.5 cups cooked white beans
1/4 – 1/3 cup water (depending on desired consistency)
Sea salt and pepper, to taste
Heat a dry skillet over medium low heat. Add the pine nuts and toast, shaking the pan frequently, for a couple minutes, until lightly browned. Remove toasted pine nuts and set aside. In the same skillet add oil and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes until garlic is slightly browned. Set garlic and oil it was cooked in aside. Garlic cooks quickly so be careful not to burn.
In a food processor or blender, blend toasted pine nuts, garlic along with its cooking oil, lemon juice, arugula, beans, and water until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and pepper.
Nutrition facts per serving (serving size: 2 tablespoons): 50 calories, 2 g total fat, 28 mg sodium, 5.5 g total carbohydrates, 2.3 g fiber, 2.2 g protein
BALANCE IT OUT: This pesto works great tossed with pasta but also has many other uses. Try it as a spread on a sandwich, such as a pesto chicken or pesto veggie panini. It works great as a dip for cut up veggies, bread, or chips. My friend Lindsay says radishes are particularly amazing with this dip. Also, check out my previous blog on pesto where I list additional creative uses for pesto!
“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.” – Henry Miller