We eat a lot of pasta, and that isn’t very well reflected in the recipes offered on OE. Sometimes you need a really quick dinner and if you’re not big on batch cooking – I’m not, really, as I don’t have enough refrigerator space here – then a quick spinach pasta like this is a good option.
I was recently sent a large package of cedar nuts as part of a paid partnership (not for this post, but full disclosure) with a European fair-trade brand, gebana. I’d never tried them before but let me tell you, cedar nuts are awesome. But don’t worry if you can’t get them!
While the water is coming to a boil and the pasta cooks, the nuts are toasted quickly before setting aside. The same pan (already hot, very handy) is then used to fry the garlic and spinach, lemon is added, and everything is mixed together with a bit of pasta water. In 15 minutes or less, dinner is ready.
- Pasta: spaghetti or another long type is particularly good, but any will work.
- Cedar Nuts: add creaminess and a nice textural element. They’re a key part of this simple dish (pine nuts can sub).
- Lemon: zest and juice, to prevent any heaviness.
- Garlic: three full cloves, in slivers, and they almost deep-fry in the oil. Fabulous.
- Olive Oil: obviously, it tastes the best here!
- Spinach: it may seem like a lot, but we all know how much it wilts down during cooking.
- Spices: salt, pepper, and hot pepper flakes. Alter the spiciness to your preference.
Cedar Nuts vs Pine Nuts
They are very similar, both from the same family of trees. Cedar nuts grow in Siberia and look and taste a lot like the more common pine nut, from the Mediterranean.
Now that I’ve tried them, I far prefer cedar nuts in terms of flavour and texture. They’re very creamy and light, without the slight chalkiness (I don’t know if that’s the right way to describe it) that I often dislike about pine.
They can be used in the same way, though, toasted simply as in this recipe, in pesto, or various other sweet and savoury dishes. I very rarely purchase pine nuts, or nuts of any kind, due to the high price, but will choose cedar nuts from now on if needed for any recipes.
Cedar nuts have a long history in Russian food and medicine, and I thought it was pretty neat to try them. If you can get your hands on some, I highly recommend it.
Notes and Substitutions
Pasta water is key for this recipe. The starchiness pulls the sauce together and helps it to stick to the pasta more effectively – it is oily otherwise.
Any type of pasta can be used. I always use spelt pasta, but gluten-free is also good, and in almost any shape.
Pine nuts can replace cedar nuts, of course. Slivered almonds work well too. Cedar nuts are actually a seed, but if you have a nut allergy, you’re probably better off to avoid them in any case.
Leave the pepper flakes out if you don’t like spice, and feel free to reduce the pepper.
It is important to toast the nuts in a dry pan. Don’t be tempted to add oil – it’ll release it as they cook. Keep an eye on the pan as they do burn quickly, and stick to the recipe in removing from the heat immediately (don’t turn off the heat but leave the nuts in the pan).
Other greens can take the place of spinach. Rucola, chard, and baby kale are all good options.
This makes enough for two, so if you have a larger group to feed (or want leftovers), double the recipe.
More Quick Dinner Recipes
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Quick Garlic Spinach Pasta with Cedar Nuts
- 250 grams spelt pasta
- 60 ml pasta water (reserve before draining)
- 40 grams cedar nuts
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic finely sliced
- ½ teaspoon sea salt to taste*
- ½ teaspoon black pepper to taste
- ½ teaspoon hot pepper flakes optional
- 100 grams packed fresh spinach
- Zest of a lemon
- Juice of a lemon ~3-4 tbsp
- Start a large pot of water for the pasta before beginning. Salt the water well and cook the pasta as stated on the package or recipe (for homemade).250 grams spelt pasta
- Prepare the cedar nuts and garlic spinach sauce while the pasta is cooking. Heat a frying pan over low-medium. Once the pan is hot, add the nuts (do not add oil). Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes, until the nuts are toasted. Immediately scoop them out of the pan and set aside.40 grams cedar nuts
- Return the pan to the heat and add the olive oil and garlic. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until the garlic is fragrant and golden.1 tablespoon olive oil, 3 cloves garlic
- Stir in the salt, pepper, and pepper flakes.1/2 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
- Turn off the heat and add the spinach, lemon zest, and lemon juice. The spinach will wilt in the pan.100 grams packed fresh spinach, Zest of a lemon, Juice of a lemon
- Scoop out some of the pasta water (about 60ml, a ladleful) before draining the pasta, and add it to the pan with the spinach.60 ml pasta water (reserve before draining)
- Mix the drained pasta with the spinach and garlic sauce and serve immediately, topped with toasted cedar nuts.