Healthy Green Pasta Sauce that’s the delicious vegetable-packed alternative to tomato pasta sauce. Filled with nutrients from kale and spinach, this vegan pasta sauce is a great way to add extra veggies to your pastas! (Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free)
This green pasta sauce is not the same as pesto, but it too is a great alternative to tomato sauce. It’s a great way to sneak in extra veggies for the kids (or yourself!) while changing up the pasta game.
No lie, I eat pasta a LOT. It can feel like pasta and clean eating don’t mesh well, but I find that pasta is a great base for adding tons of protein and veggies! I always keep frozen vegetables in the freezer to add to pasta (my favorites are spinach and peas) when I’m in a pinch for a healthy pasta recipe.
Highlights of this Recipe
This recipe is:
- Dairy Free + Vegan
- Gluten Free
- Loaded with greens!
Ingredients & Substitutions
Spinach - Spinach in this pasta sauce helps add extra nutritional value without the green, earthy taste. Substitute for more kale!
Kale - Use lacinato kale, curly kale, baby kale or bagged shredded kale. Substitute for arugula for a less green and earthy taste, or omit and use only spinach!
Lemon - Both lemon juice and lemon zest help balance the earthy green taste.
Pasta of Choice - With a green sauce like this one, I suggest a pasta with holes or indents so it keeps the sauce. Try a rigatoni, penne or orecchiette type pasta.(Read below for great GF options!)
the Dirty Dozen
Spinach and Kale is often found on something called the “Dirty Dozen,” meaning you should aim to purchase the organic version of these vegetables.
Have you ever wondered what the "dirty dozen" is? Each Spring, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes a list of fruits and veggies that are the highest and lowest levels of pesticides in the US. The Dirty Dozen has the highest levels of pesticides, while the "Clean Fifteen" have the lowest!
NOW, this isn't supposed to stop you from eating your fruits and veggies. It's only supposed to settle which fruits + veg are best to buy organic. Most people don't eat enough fruits and veggies in their diet, so it's much more important to eat it than avoid it!
It's important to note that according to EWG, Dirty Dozen fruits and vegetables still have high levels of pesticides when frozen. Frozen organic may be cheaper than fresh organic depending on the season, so always feel free to check that out!
Put a large pot or dutch oven filled with water to boil on the stove.
Once at a boil, add gluten free pasta to water.
While pasta is cooking to al dente, add all green pasta sauce ingredients to a food processor or blender. Puree until thick and smooth.
Drain pasta but keep ⅓ cup of pasta water to the side. This will help form a sauce!
Add drained pasta, water and green pasta sauce back to the pot. Turn back on the heat and stir together for 2-3 minutes, until pasta sauce evenly coats pasta.
What Kind of Pasta to Use?
With a lighter spinach pasta sauce, use pastas that have holes or indents to help hold the sauce best.
Orecchiette or Shells - pasta in a circular shape that looks like a curved palm. This is probably the best pasta for lighter sauces. It holds the sauce in its indented space.
Penne or Rigatoni - short, tubular pasta with small ridges on the outside and a hole in the center. Penne and rigatoni are the most versatile pastas. The ridges can keep a green sauce well. The ridges and the fact that it is often a pantry staple made this an easy choice for me.
Best Clean + Gluten Free Pastas
There are so many gluten free pasta brands these days. Many become extra mushy when cooked. When that happens, the texture becomes different from traditional pasta.
Jovial - Their tagliatelle and rotini are both so good. The tagliatelle only takes a few minutes to cook. It also tastes exactly like traditional fresh pasta. The rotini doesn’t get mushy and tastes delicious.
Tolerant - I love their green lentil penne pasta. It is high in protein (25g plant-based protein per serving!) and doesn’t get mushy. They also have red lentil and chickpea pastas.
Trader Joe's - For this pasta dish I used their brown rice penne pasta. The quinoa and brown rice fusilli is probably my favorite gluten free pasta. I also love their egg fettuccine as a fresh pasta alternative. It cooks within 3-4 minutes and soaks up flavor for pastas with butter sauce.
Barilla - The corn spaghetti tastes sooo good. Beware, your kitchen will smell like corn while you cook it! This is my go-to for spaghetti.
For a pasta dish like this one, use any type of gluten free pasta or traditional pasta.
The best part about pasta dishes is that you can customize them however you like.
Use roasted pepitas, slivered almonds, pecans, or other nuts of choice.
Cheese It Up!
Top with goat cheese, feta, shaved parmesan, or pecorino romano.
Protein or Bust!
I love to add any fresh or frozen vegetable in this pasta sauce recipe. I try to always keep frozen vegetables in the fridge to add to the cooked pasta. Some great veggies to use in a pasta with green pasta sauce:
- Spinach (frozen or fresh)
- Peppers (frozen or fresh)
- Corn (fresh or frozen)
- Cherry tomatoes or sun dried tomatoes
- Broccoli (fresh or frozen)
- Butternut squash
- Any leftover roasted vegetables
Frequently Asked Questions
Is this sauce a pesto?
The most basic version of a pesto is a sauce that has basil leaves, pine nuts, garlic, parmesan cheese and olive oil. These days, you can use a variety of greens and nuts to create a pesto sauce. Because this sauce doesn’t use olive oil nor does it use nuts, it is not a pesto.
Why is my pasta sauce watery?
If you add too much reserved pasta water, that can make your pasta sauce too watery. Continue to cook the sauce on the pasta until the water is cooked off.
Other Easy Weeknight Meals
- Healthier Turkey Chili
- Steak and Arugula Sandwich (Oven Baked)
- Spring Vegetarian Pasta with Butter Sauce
- Carne Asada Quesadillas
- Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Fig Glaze
Green Pasta Sauce (Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free)
- 2 cups Kale
- 3 cups Spinach
- ¼ cup Lemon juice (from 1 lemon)
- 1 tablespoon Lemon Zest (from 1 lemon)
- 1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- ½ teaspoon Salt
- Red Pepper Flakes optional
- 6 Ounces Gluten Free Pasta
- Heat a large pot with water to boil on the stove. Make sure to add salt to the pasta water.
- Add the kale, spinach, lemon zest, lemon juice and salt to a food processor or blender.
- Puree for 2-3 minutes, until the greens are well chopped.
- Remove the lid and push all ingredients down from the sides.
- Continue to puree in the food processor and add oil. Puree for another minute, until the pasta sauce forms a looser, pureed sauce.
- Cook pasta according to instructions - except making sure to cook to al dente, about 1-3 minutes less than required per instructions. Prior to draining pasta, keep ⅓ cup of pasta water to the side. (Reserve more pasta sauce if making more than 2 portions)
- Drain pasta and add back to the pot.
- Pour in the green sauce and the reserved ⅓ cup of pasta water, turn on the heat to medium-low and stir the pasta together with the sauce and pasta water.
- Let the pasta, sauce and water combine, to thicken the green pasta sauce and make sure it sticks to the pasta noodles. This should take only 2-4 minutes, making sure the water has thickened the sauce and that the sauce is thick, not watery. Sauce should stick to all of the noodles and appear like a pesto!
- Serve in bowls.
- Top with fresh herbs like fresh basil, cilantro or parsley! Or sprinkle with cheese or protein of choice!