Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach

I bought a little jar of pesto recently and have been having fun finding ways to add it to everyday recipes. Yesterday I noticed a half bag of macaroni that had been sitting in my pantry for a few months and I just knew it was begging for the pesto treatment. So, I whipped up a quick […]

The post Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach appeared first on Budget Bytes.

I bought a little jar of pesto recently and have been having fun finding ways to add it to everyday recipes. Yesterday I noticed a half bag of macaroni that had been sitting in my pantry for a few months and I just knew it was begging for the pesto treatment. So, I whipped up a quick béchamel sauce, stirred in some grated Parmesan, and a good dollop of pesto. I poured the luxurious sauce over my cooked macaroni then aded couple handfuls of thawed frozen spinach (because I’m all about balance), and had myself the most delicious and creamy pesto mac and cheese.

Originally posted 3-8-2016, updated 4-26-2021.

Close up overhead view of a bowl of creamy pesto mac with spinach, fork in the center

What Kind of Pesto is Best?

I used a simple basil pesto, but the wonderful thing about this recipe is that it is very flexible. You could do a homemade Kale Pesto, you could do a sun-dried tomato pesto, or practically any flavor pesto that you’d like. 

How to Use Leftover Pesto

Pesto is definitely an expensive ingredient, but it’s so potent that you really don’t need a lot to add big flavor to your recipes. The little jar I bought contains about 3/4 cup pesto and costs $3.99. I usually only use about ¼ cup at a time in a recipe, so there is always some leftover. Here are some other recipes that use pesto:

If you can’t find uses for your leftovers immediately, pesto can be frozen. A lot of people like to spoon it into ice cube trays so they can grab a couple tablespoons at a time to toss into recipes like pasta, salad dressings, and other sauces.

What Else Can I Add to Pesto Mac and Cheese?

You can really take this recipe so many different directions! Try adding a handful of sun dried tomatoes, or maybe some chopped up rotisserie chicken. Or try topping it with some crumbled feta, bacon bits, or some buttered breadcrumbs!

Close up of a spoonful of creamy pesto mac with the pot in the background

Close up side view of a bowl of creamy pesto mac with spinach

Creamy Pesto Mac and Cheese with Spinach

A simple creamy sauce infused with basil pesto makes this Creamy Pesto Mac and Cheese with spinach the ultimate comfort food WITH a dose of vegetables!
Total Cost $4.05 reicpe / $0.68 serving
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6 (1 cup each)
Calories 333.58kcal
Author Beth - Budget Bytes

Ingredients

  • 2 cups uncooked macaroni $0.50
  • 2 Tbsp butter $0.22
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour $0.02
  • 2 cups whole milk $0.60
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan $0.53
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto $1.33
  • 1/2 tsp salt $0.02
  • Freshly cracked pepper $0.03
  • 1/2 lb. frozen spinach $0.80

Instructions

  • Thaw the spinach at room temperature or in the microwave. Squeeze out the excess water. Set the spinach aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add the macaroni. Boil for 7-10 minutes, or until tender. Drain the macaroni in a colander.
  • While the pasta is boiling, prepare the sauce. Add the butter and flour to a small sauce pot. Heat and stir the butter and flour over medium heat until it forms a creamy paste and begins to bubble. Continue to stir and cook for about one minute more.
  • Whisk the milk into the butter and flour, then allow it to come up to a simmer, while whisking. When it reaches a simmer, the sauce will thicken. Remove the sauce from the heat.
  • Whisk the Parmesan and pesto into the sauce until smooth. This will further thicken the sauce. Season the sauce with salt and freshly cracked pepper. Make sure the sauce is well seasoned as the flavors will be less concentrated once the pasta and spinach are stirred in.
  • Return the cooked and drained pasta to the large pot (heat turned off) and add the thawed spinach. Pour the sauce over top, then stir until everything is combined and coated in sauce. Serve immediately.

Video

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 333.58kcal | Carbohydrates: 39.75g | Protein: 12.33g | Fat: 14.08g | Sodium: 665.92mg | Fiber: 2.75g

Close up side view of a bowl of creamy pesto mac with spinach

How to Make Pesto Mac and Cheese – Step by Step Photos

Macaroni being poured into a pot of boiling water

Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the macaroni. Once boiling, add two cups of macaroni and continue to boil until tender but not mushy. Drain the pasta in a colander.

Thawed spinach in a bowl

While the macaroni is boiling, thaw 1/2 lb. spinach and then squeeze out some of the excess water. It doesn’t have to be bone-dry, just make sure it’s not sopping wet.

Butter and flour being whisked in a sauce pot

Place 2 Tbsp butter and 2 Tbsp flour into a small sauce pot. Heat them over a medium flame while whisking. Once bubbling, continue to stir and cook for about a minute. This mixture is called a roux (this is a blonde roux, in particular) and is used to thicken the sauce. Cooking it for a minute or so slightly toasts the flour so that you don’t have that raw paste-like flavor to your sauce.

Milk being poured into the sauce pot with the roux

Whisk in two cups of whole milk. Let the mixture come to a simmer, whisking occasionally to make sure the milk doesn’t scorch on the bottom.

Thickened white sauce on the back of a spoon

Once the milk starts simmering, that’s when the roux magic happens. The milk will thicken slightly. It won’t be as thick as a cheese sauce at this point, but it should have noticeably more body. Turn the heat off.

Grated Parmesan being added to the sauce pot

Whisk in 1/2 cup grated Parmesan. The cheese will help thicken the sauce even more. 

A measuring cup full of basil pesto held over the sauce pot

Then whisk in 1/4 cup basil pesto.

Salt and pepper added to the creamy pesto sauce

Finally, season the sauce with salt and freshly cracked pepper. You want the sauce to be pretty heavily seasoned because it will taste less concentrated once the pasta and spinach are stirred in. I used 1/2 tsp salt and about 5-10 cranks of a pepper mill.

Creamy pesto sauce and spinach added to the pot with the cooked macaroni

Return the cooked and drained pasta to the large pot it was cooked in, add the thawed and squeezed spinach, then pour the creamy sauce over top.

Finished creamy pesto mac in a pot with a large spoon

Then stir all that creamy pesto goodness together. Oh my.

Overhead view of a bowl full of creamy pesto mac with spinach, a fork in the center

I’ll just say it one more time, then leave it there… Creamy Pesto Mac and Cheese with Spinach–OH MY.

Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach - BudgetBytes.com

The post Creamy Pesto Mac with Spinach appeared first on Budget Bytes.

Spinach Rice with Feta

I like to add vegetables into whatever I’m eating, whenever I can, and this Spinach Rice with Feta is such a great way to do that. The spinach adds just a little bit of flavor and color, leaving the rice just about as versatile as plain rice, all while giving you an extra little dose of vegetables with very little effort.

The post Spinach Rice with Feta appeared first on Budget Bytes.

I like to add vegetables into whatever I’m eating, whenever I can, and this Spinach Rice with Feta is such a great way to do that. The spinach adds just a little bit of flavor and color, leaving the rice just about as versatile as plain rice, all while giving you an extra little dose of vegetables with very little effort. It’s a great way to add just a little bit more interest to your plate without making your meal prep a lot more difficult.

Overhead view of Spinach Rice with Feta in an oval serving dish with a serving spoon

This simple side dish is inspired by Spanikorizo, a Greek rice dish with spinach and tomatoes (see an authentic spanikorizo recipe here). I pared it down and decided to make it more like a pilaf instead of a saucy tomato dish, and kept the flavors super simple and light, so it would go with just about anything. I also took a major shortcut and used frozen spinach, just to make it as fast and easy as possible (and also because I always have spinach in my freezer). The result is something I know I’m going to be making very often.

What Kind of Rice to Use

The recipe below is written for any type of long grain white rice (regular, jasmine, or basmati all work). Brown rice requires more liquid and a longer cooking time, which may leave the spinach overcooked. Short grain rice varieties, like arborio, will create a sticker end product.

Can I Use Fresh Spinach?

Yes, I used frozen spinach just to make my life easier, but you can certainly do this with fresh spinach, especially if you have some on hand that you’re looking to use up! I suggest chopping the spinach and sautéing it in the pot until wilted, just after sautéing the garlic.

What to Serve with Spinach Rice

This week I served this Spinach Rice as the base for a bowl meal, along with Yogurt Marinated Chicken and some grape tomatoes. This rice would also go great with my Beef Kofta Meatballs and Roasted Vegetables, Sheet Pan Greek Chicken and Vegetables, or Chicken Piccata.

Close up side view of spinach rice with feta on a serving dish
Close up overhead view of spinach rice with feta in a serving dish

Spinach Rice with Feta

This veggie filled Spinach Rice makes a great bed for grilled meats or vegetables, and adds an extra pop of flavor thanks to feta cheese.
Total Cost $3.06 recipe / $0.51 serving
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Servings 6 1 cup each
Calories 240.97kcal
Author Beth – Budget Bytes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lb. frozen chopped spinach $0.65
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced $0.16
  • 2 Tbsp butter $0.14
  • 1.5 cups long grain white rice $0.93
  • 3/4 tsp salt $0.03
  • 2.5 cups water $0.16
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice $0.05
  • 2 oz. feta, crumbled $1.10

Instructions

  • Thaw the spinach by either letting it sit out at room temperature for an hour, or by microwaving for 1-2 minutes. Squeeze the excess moisture out of the spinach (it doesn't have to be extremely dry for this recipe, just make sure it's not pooling water).
  • Add the minced garlic and butter to a medium sauce pot. Sauté the garlic in the butter over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.
  • Add the spinach, rice, salt, lemon juice, and 2.5 cups water to the sauce pot. Stir briefly to combine.
  • Place a lid on the pot, turn the heat up to medium-high, and allow the water to come up to a boil. Once it reaches a full boil, turn the heat down to low, and let the rice simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn the heat off and let the pot rest, without removing the lid, for an additional five minutes.
  • Fluff the rice with a fork, gently folding the spinach back into the rice (it tends to float to the top during cooking). Finall, sprinkle the feta over top and fold to combine again. Serve hot!

Nutrition

Serving: 1cup | Calories: 240.97kcal | Carbohydrates: 39.48g | Protein: 6.13g | Fat: 6.4g | Sodium: 464.14mg | Fiber: 1.73g
Close up overhead view of spinach rice with feta in a serving dish

How to Make Spinach Rice with Feta – Step by Step Photos

Garlic and butter in a sauce pot

First, thaw ½ lb. frozen chopped spinach (either at room temperature or in the microwave) and then squeeze out the excess water. Mince two cloves of garlic and add them to a medium saucepot with 2 Tbsp butter. Sauté the garlic over medium heat for 1-2 minutes.

Thawed spinach added to the saucepot

Add the thawed and squeezed spinach to the sauce pot.

water being poured into the sauce pot with the rice and spinach

Also add 1.5 cups long grain white rice, ¾ tsp salt, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, and 2.5 cups water.

Stirred rice spinach and water in the saucepot

Give the pot a brief stir to make sure everything is combined (the spinach will float to the top). Place a lid on top, turn the heat up to high, and bring it up to a full boil. Once it reaches a full boil, turn the heat down to low, and let the rice simmer for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, remove the pot from the heat and let the rice rest for five minutes, without removing the lid.

Cooked rice being fluffed

After resting for five minutes, remove the lid and fluff the rice with a fork, gently folding the spinach back into the rice as you fluff.

crumbled feta added to rice

Add the crumbled feta to the rice and fold it in to combine (you can save a little to garnish when serving, if you’d like).

Close up overhead view of spinach rice with feta in a serving dish

The post Spinach Rice with Feta appeared first on Budget Bytes.

Swamp Soup

Despite its “swampy” appearance, this soup is simply one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. If you like tomato soup, you’ll adore Swamp Soup. It’s like tomato soup on steroids and with a grilled cheese built right in. The broth is incredibly thick and hearty, it’s full of tons of vegetables that add texture […]

The post Swamp Soup appeared first on Budget Bytes.

Despite its “swampy” appearance, this soup is simply one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. If you like tomato soup, you’ll adore Swamp Soup. It’s like tomato soup on steroids and with a grilled cheese built right in. The broth is incredibly thick and hearty, it’s full of tons of vegetables that add texture and flavor, and let’s not forget those creamy, gooey bits of swiss cheese in every other bite. It’s TO DIE FOR.

Originally posted 12-21-10, updated 1-9-20.

Swamp Soup – Tomato Soup’s Flashier Cousin

Two bowls of swamp soup from above with oyster crackers and a bowl of swiss cheese cubes on the side

Soup-er Fast, Soup-er Good.

My favorite thing about this soup is that it’s incredibly fast and easy. It’s ready to eat as soon as it’s heated through, although you can always let it simmer a bit longer, if you want. And if you have some chopped carrots and celery stashed in your freezer (scroll down to the step by step photos if you’re wondering why you’d ever have that in your freezer), it goes even faster!

How to Serve Swamp Soup

As mentioned above, this soup has melty chunks of Swiss cheese floating around in every bowl. While you can add the Swiss cheese to the whole pot, if you don’t plan to serve it all in one sitting, I suggest adding the cheese to each bowl just before serving (after reheating). You’ll probably also want some sort of cracker or crusty bread for dipping!

Can I freeze it?

Yes indeed! This soup is great for stocking your freezer. After cooking, divide your soup into single servings, cool it completely in the refrigerator over night, then transfer to the freezer the next day. You can freeze in quart-sized freezer bags or any freezer-safe meal prep container.

Substitutes for Swiss Cheese

I love the subtle flavor of Swiss with this soup, but if Swiss isn’t your jam you can use mozzarella instead. Mozzarella melts in a similar way to Swiss, so you’ll get the same effect in the soup. Plus, mozzarella also goes great with tomato. If you don’t care about the melty aspect, a little crumbled feta would also be amazing sprinkled onto every bowl.

A red soup pot full of Swamp Soup with a bowl of Swiss cheese cubes on the side

Love tomato soup? Check out my Secret Ingredient Tomato Soup, too!

 

Swamp Soup

A thick, tomatoey vegetable soup with "swampy" bits of spinach and gooey swiss cheese make this unconventional Swamp Soup unforgettable!

  • 3 cloves garlic ($0.24)
  • 1 yellow onion ($0.32)
  • 1/2 lb. carrots (about 4 medium) ($0.30)
  • 3 ribs celery ($0.46)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil ($0.32)
  • 1 Tbsp dried basil ($0.30)
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano ($0.30)
  • 3 8oz. cans tomato sauce ($0.75)
  • 3 15oz. cans diced tomatoes ($1.35)
  • 1.5 cups vegetable broth ($0.20)
  • 1 10oz. pkg frozen chopped spinach ($0.99)
  • 8 oz. Swiss cheese ($1.69)
  1. Mince the garlic, dice the onion, peel and slice the carrots, and slice the celery. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery to a large soup pot with the olive oil and sauté over medium heat for about five minutes, or until the onions are soft.

  2. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes (with juices), vegetable broth, basil, and oregano to the pot. Stir to combine, then allow the soup to come to a simmer.

  3. Once the soup is simmering, add the frozen spinach (no need to thaw). Stir the spinach into the hot soup until it has melted and heated through.

  4. Once the spinach is thoroghly mixed into the soup, give the soup a taste and add salt if needed. I did not add any, but this will ultimately depend on the sodium content of your canned goods and vegetable broth.

  5. Dice the swiss cheese into small cubes. Add a small handful of cubes to each bowl, then ladle the hot soup over top. Serve and enjoy!

Scroll down for the step by step photos!

Close up of a bowl of Swamp Soup with a spoon lifting a bit and melted Swiss cheese pulling from the bowl

 

How to Make Swamp Soup – Step By Step Photos

Chopped onion, celery, carrots, and minced garlic in the soup pot

Dice one yellow onion, peel and slice 1/2 lb. carrots (about four carrots), slice three ribs celery, and mince 3 cloves of garlic. Add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic to a large soup pot with 2 Tbsp olive oil.

Pre-chopped carrot and celery in a freezer bag

Since most of my soups begin with 1/2 lb. chopped carrot and 3-4 ribs of celery, I just go ahead and chop up the rest of my carrots and the bunch of celery, and freeze it for the next time I make a soup. That way I don’t have to do as much chopping later. I just dump the bag of frozen veggies into my soup pot and go!

Sautéed vegetables in soup pot

Sauté the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic over medium for about five minutes, or until the onions are soft.

Add tomatoes, herbs, and vegetable broth to soup pot

Next, add three 8 oz. cans of tomato sauce, three 15 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (with juices), 1 Tbsp dried basil, 1 Tbsp dried oregano, and 1.5 cups vegetable broth to the pot. Stir to combine, then allow the soup to come up to a simmer.

Simmered soup with frozen spinach added

Once the soup comes up to a simmer, add a 10 oz. block of frozen chopped spinach (no need to thaw). You can use frozen bagged spinach, too, just estimate about 10 oz. Stir the spinach into the soup until it thaws and heats through.

Taste finished soup

Once the soup is heated through, give it a taste and add salt if needed. Mine did not need any additional salt, but that will depend on your taste buds and the salt content of your canned goods and vegetable broth.

Adding Swiss cheese to soup pot

Chop an 8 oz. block of Swiss cheese into small cubes. If you’re going to serve the entire pot of soup at one sitting, go ahead and stir the cubes of cheese into the soup pot (with the heat turned off). The residual heat will melt the cubes. If you’re going to be eating one or two bowls at a time, add the cheese cubes to each bowl, then ladle the hot soup over top.

A ladle full of Swamp Soup being lifted from the soup pot, viewed from the side

Sooooo gooey and good!

Two bowls of Swamp Soup with a bowl of Swiss cheese on the side, plus a few oyster crackers

The post Swamp Soup appeared first on Budget Bytes.