Pasta Salad with Peas and Spinach Pesto

June 27, 2012

Last weekend Joe and I had our friends Mike and Krista, and their adorable baby girl Ella, over for dinner. Too many times in the past, I’ve gotten in the bad habit of going all out when making a meal for friends, spending way more money than I had intended and busting our budget. But lately, I’ve been trying to keep a better eye on what I spend when we entertain and try to come up with creative ways to feed a group without making any expensive purchases.

Although I really like spinach, I find that I rarely make it through an entire bag of spinach in a week. Most of the time I end up freezing the extra leaves before they go bad for use in smoothies, but last week I decided to do things a little differently. Instead of purchasing basil for my pesto (I killed the basil I was trying to grow), I decided to add bright green color with spinach instead. Of course, the spinach doesn’t add the zing and flavor that fresh basil adds to pesto, but it is a great way to add nutrition and flavor to a pasta salad with something you probably already have on hand in your kitchen.

The rest of the menu I served was equally scaled-back and frugal, without sacrificing flavor. Here’s a look at what I served:
Starter: Romaine Salad with Avocado, Tomato and Poppy Seed-Balsamic Vinaigrette
Entree: Dijon Pork Tenderloin, Buttered Fresh Green Beans, Pasta Salad with Peas and Spinach Pesto and Parmesan-Peppercorn Focaccia (purchased)
Dessert: Chocolate Pie (recipe to come!)

How do you all handle dinner parties or having friends over to eat? Do you go all-out? Or do you try to work it into your regular weekly budget?

Pasta Salad with Peas and Spinach Pesto
*2 cups medium shell pasta, cooked according to package directions and rinsed in cold water
*1 cup frozen sweet peas, de-thawed
*1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
*1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
*2 handfuls baby spinach leaves
*Kosher salt and ground black pepper

*In a bowl, combine the pasta and peas. Set aside.
*In a food processor or blender, combine the olive oil, Parmesan and spinach. Blend until almost smooth. Season to taste with salt and ground black pepper. Drizzle mixture over the peas and pesto and toss to coat.

Happy Cooking!


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  • Reply amy June 27, 2012 at 11:40 am

    Oooh this looks good and so easy! Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Lauren at Keep It Sweet June 27, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    This looks delicious and that sounds like a great menu! We have been trying to do some lower maintenance dinners lately for friends where we grill the main course and do simple sides like salad and corn on the cob… so perfect for summer. Of course you know I still go crazy with dessert:-)

    Side note- how do you freeze your spinach?

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm

      Lauren, I’m probably the wrong one to ask. I don’t think I freeze it the right way by any means. I just make sure it’s not too wet by drying it off with paper towels, then throw it in a freezer bag. Since it’s just going in smoothies, I figure it doesn’t really matter, right?

  • Reply Ruth D Huggins June 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    I have the SAME problem when I entertain! I end up breaking the bank because I want to go all out on every course. Love the idea of finding new ways to be more frugal while also having people over…something I am not willing to stop doing:) One rule I make for myself is that if I want to try a new recipe when people are coming over I only allow myself to buy 5 ingredients and if it is any more than that I have to find a new recipe. I have too much in my pantry and fridge to be buying any more than that!

    p.s. I absolutely LOVE your blog!!!

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      Isn’t it crazy how one dinner can easily start to get as expensive as a week’s worth of groceries?

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm

      Thank you, Ruth! And thanks for the great tips about how you stay on budget. I love the 5-ingredient rule. It makes everything seem more manageable.

  • Reply Tara @ Chip Chip Hooray June 27, 2012 at 3:28 pm

    I love this recipe! I’ve been trying to get some pesto into my life frugally as well–the price for pine nuts sends me reeling. 🙂 The kale from my CSA has become pesto, but this idea is great too–and I am a big fan of the pesto/pea/pasta combo.

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm

      Ugh, why do pine nuts have to be so expensive? I’m giving basil-growing another try. This time, I’m starting with plants that are already grown, so I just need to keep them alive!

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm

      Ahh, you’re a member of a CSA? I’ve been debating about it. Do you like it? or just feel like you’re overwhelmed with produce you don’t want…

  • Reply Liz @ Tip Top Shape June 27, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    This looks absolutely amazing!

  • Reply UrbanWife June 27, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    I used to be pretty bad at breaking the bank/budget when we entertained. I try and make one substantial entree and then use small, cheaper sides to round it out. This pasta looks great!

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 27, 2012 at 8:41 pm

      I love the idea of putting a majority of your “budget” for a dinner party into the entree and keeping the sides low-key. It’s a great way to keep the fuss-factor down, too.

  • Reply Anna @ The Guiltless Life June 27, 2012 at 4:54 pm

    Peas with pasta is one of my favourite combos EVER! This sounds lovely, I love the way you snuck in so many greens!

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 27, 2012 at 8:40 pm

      Anna, it’s amazing how much flavor the peas add to the pasta! I’m not a huge fan of peas on their own, but with pasta it’s a whole different story.

  • Reply Laura M Staugaitis June 28, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Falafel is my favorite cheap, impromptu dinner party meal. All the ingredients are basic– the only thing you might need to buy are chickpeas and tahini (which is super cheap at ethnic grocery stores). Greek yogurt+cucumbers=instant raita, pitas or corn tortillas (even cheaper) to make sandwiches, and just roast a bunch of fresh veggies with lots of garlic (I tossed mine with some quinoa and homemade tahini-lime-agave dressing). It’s unexpected, inexpensive, and a crowd-pleaser. Marinate some lemon chicken kebabs if you want to have meat as well. Also– any falafel recipe can easily be baked and/or pan-sauteed rather than fried.

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm

      Laura, what a great idea! We have this great little place called Open Sesame in DSM that makes amazing falafel and the best salads. I can’t believe that I’ve never even thought to make it for friends when we entertain. You’ve inspired me to break out of my box. 🙂

  • Reply Marisa June 28, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    This pasta salad looks delicious! We don’t do dinners for friends that often so I end up splurging when we do since it is a fun time to try out new recipes. We often will have people over for cocktails and whatever snack I serve is usually fairly low in cost.

    • Reply Madison Mayberry June 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm

      Oh I love that cocktails and snack idea. Great way to entertain with minimal fuss and stress for the host.

  • Reply Baking Serendipity June 29, 2012 at 2:33 am

    I love this pasta salad! I’ve found our friends are most impressed when I make good recipes with simple ingredients I have on hand like this one.

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