Whenever I decide to bake up a batch of muffins, some of the flavors that come to mind are blueberry, chocolate, banana nut, and perhaps bran (if I am in a healthy mood, which is practically never). The idea of savory muffins are somewhat new to me. I must admit that I have an inclination to think that muffins should only be sweet. Shame on me. Perhaps it is because this is all I am used to. I am a creature of habit and I do not normally eat or encounter, for that matter, savory muffins on a regular basis. Sweet muffins doused with sugar and made with tart fruit or rich chocolate chips is what I have become accustomed to. It is what I constantly surround myself with. I have recently learned that muffins can be savory as well, and in fact, they are even more delicious than sweet muffins. Forget everything you think you know about muffins. Put those blueberries, bananas, and chocolate chips on the back shelf and take out the cheese, the basil and the spinach; your life is about to change.
It might come off as quite a shock that I actually prefer savory over sweet. Do not get me wrong, I love dessert just as much as the next person, but I would much rather have a second helping of dinner than to save room for a sweet treat at the end of the meal. The idea of enjoying something cheesy, crunchy and salty is much more appealing, exciting and inviting than something that is creamy, sugary and chocolatey. There are few things in life that are more satisfying than warm, freshly baked bread. Now take that bread and mix it with homemade pesto and shredded mozzarella cheese, bake it until golden brown and you have yourself quite possibly the world’s best muffin. Ever.
The undeniable truth of this whole matter is that I really just wanted an excuse to eat green colored food. Green happens to be my favorite color and I will literally jump at any chance I am given to eat something that looks like it came out of one of Dr. Seuss’s books. Or something that Popeye himself would serve at his house. If I could get away with it, I would just add green food coloring to all my food. That however, does not sound too appetizing so I resist the urge everyday to reach into my pantry for the bottle of coloring. These muffins just so happen to get their green hue naturally from homemade pesto which is a double win because if you do not feel like making pesto-spinach muffins, well guess what, you now have a recipe for pesto that you can easily double and toss with cooked pasta. Weeknight dinner anyone? I think so. I think so.
Let’s start off with a history lesson shall we? What exactly is pesto? Well thank you for asking. According to my trustworthy resource, Wikipedia, pesto is a sauce originating in Genoa in the Liguria region of northern Italy. This pesto is known as pesto genovese. It traditionally consists of crushed garlic, basil, pine nuts and blended with olive oil and Parmesan cheese. So there you have it. I know you were just dying to know what pesto was and where it came from.
You can easily make these muffins more quickly by using store bought pesto, if you’d like. Perhaps you don’t have the time to make your own pesto at home. That’s okay. Don’t fret the small things.
However, if you do have the time to make your own pesto, it will make all the difference in the world. Forget about what I just said, you should definitely make your own pesto. It’s easy, fast and delicious.
Let’s start with an empty and clean food processor.
Don’t think you can get away with the excuse that you don’t have a food processor, which in turn, means you can’t make the pesto. You can easily make this with a blender. I’m sure you have one or the other.
To make the pesto, you’ll need basil and parsley.
Pick the leaves off of the basil and throw it into the bowl.
Run your knife along the parsley, removing the leafy greens from the stems, add that to the food processor bowl as well.
You can’t have pesto without garlic, so guess what, we need to add the garlic.
Depending on how much you like garlic, or not, you can add as much as you’d like. I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to pesto, so I’m adding two cloves. Feel free to adjust it as you see fit.
**Tip: To peel the garlic, put away those pesky garlic ‘peelers’ they’re more like garlic mess makers. Why dirty another tool that only takes up precious kitchen space? Just use your knife to remove the skins from the garlic. Place the flat panel of the blade on top of the garlic, and give it a gentle whack. Then just remove the skin. Presto pesto, you have peeled garlic. See what I did there, eh?**
By hitting the garlic with the blade, it gently squishes the cloves and loosens the skin. Which is all just fancy talk for, it makes it easier for you to peel.
Add the garlic to the food processor alongside the basil and parsley.
Let’s add some more ingredients to our pesto.
Pine Nuts (a traditional pesto ingredient, but feel free to swap it out for walnuts, pecans, almonds or even pumpkin seeds).
Salt (kosher preferably).
Black pepper (grind it yourself).
Right now we have a salty, peppery, nutty, garlicy flavored presto. We need something to liven it up. To bring out the flavor of the greens. What will do that? Lemon.
Fresh lemon zest.
**Note: When zesting citrus, only zest the top colored layer. Avoid scraping into the white pith as that can be bitter making your dishes taste bitter. **
We’re also going to extract the juice from the lemon. And that’s just a fancy way of me saying we’re going to squeeze the juice out of the lemon, so cut it in half, and squeeze the crap out of the lemon.
Once the lemon zest and juice have been added, place the lid on the food processor and pulse a few times until the mixture becomes coarse and grainy. Roughly chopped, in other words.
At this point we are ready to add the oil. Extra-virgin olive oil or just plain olive oil.
Stream in the olive oil while the food processor is running.
The pesto should be slightly thick and creamy. If it is still coarse, add a bit more oil. At the same time if you haven’t added all the oil but you see that the mixture is thick and creamy already, don’t add all of it. You have to eyeball it sometimes depending on how much basil and parsley you add.
And now for the tastiest ingredient of all, drum roll please, ba ba rummmmm rummmmmm rummmmm rummmmmmmm, that’s the best I can do. Bear with me and these low budget sound effects.
Fresh grated Parmesan.
If you have some already grated in the fridge, that’s okay you can use it. I won’t judge. I’ll look the other way.
Sprinkle the cheese into the pesto.
Pulse it once more to incorporate the cheese.
Give the pesto a taste to “check the seasonings” but in reality we all know we’re just tasting it to eat it. If you feel that it needs more salt or pepper, add some.
Transfer the pesto to a bowl and set aside.
Now let’s get working on that muffin batter.
Crack the eggs into a medium bowl.
Pour in the oil.
I’m using extra-virgin olive oil once again, but you can use just plain olive oil if you’d like.
Also add the milk.
And in keeping with the theme, you’ll get two images of milk as well.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, we are combining all the wet ingredients together. Then we’ll combine all the dry ingredients, and fold them until they combine and become one delicious savory muffin batter.
It’s a super easy recipe, what can I say?
Give the wet ingredients a thorough whisk, until well-combined.
Learn from my mistakes folks and use a bigger bowl than I did. I made a little bit of a mess. I was too lazy to grab a bigger bowl once I realized mine was too small so I decided to test my luck and just whisk away anyhow. It was quite the challenge.
We need to add one more ingredient to the wet mixture.
**Tip: Thaw out the spinach, you can nuke it in the microwave for a couple of seconds to soften it or you can leave it in the fridge overnight until it has thawed completely.**
If you’ve ever dealt with frozen spinach you’ll know that it is mostly made up of ridiculous amounts of water. We need to drain that water before adding it to our batter.
Place the spinach on top of a few paper towels or a clean kitchen cloth. And squeeze the water out of the spinach.
Look at ALL that water that came out of that one tiny little package of spinach. That would have watered-down our muffins.
Add the spinach to the wet ingredients.
Give it one more whisk to incorporate.
Let’s get the dry ingredients ready.
In a large bowl, add the flour.
To the flour, throw in the baking powder and salt.
The time has finally come to combine the wet and dry ingredients.
Now you all know me by now and you know my complete and utter laziness to mixing by hand. I’m always voting to use the electric mixer. This is one of the few times that I highly recommend mixing by hand. I know I know, pigs are starting to fly. What is happening to the world?
Mixing by hand will just prevent these muffins from becoming tough and dry.
Plus it’s an easy mix by hand situation so I’m not complaining. I’ll pick my battles,
Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the wet mixture into the middle of the well.
Carefully and ever so delicately, fold the two mixtures together.
Make sure to not overmix the batter at this point, it will be lump and that’s okay.
And just because there isn’t enough cheese usage in this lovely world of ours, let’s add some shredded mozzarella cheese to the batter. Why not? Might as well take these muffins over the edge. A little cheese never hurt anyone. Except perhaps a lactose intolerant person. I shutter at the thought.
Add the cheese and our homemade pesto to the batter.
Cheese and pesto mixed into bread, can you think of anything more appealing and appetizing? I can’t.
Fold the two ingredients into the batter until just combined.
That’s it, the batter is finally done.
It’s baking time. Dum num num num.
Grease a cupcake tin with either melted butter, oil, or cooking spray. I decided to be “healthy” and use cooking spray. There I’ve done my part for the diet world.
Using a medium ice cream scoop, portion out the batter into each of the cupcake cavities.
Fill each to the top until it reaches the rim of the pan.
Bake in a preheated 350° F oven for about 20 to 25 minutes until they are golden brown all around, and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.
At the halfway point, rotate the pans to ensure even baking.
Allow the muffins to slightly cool in the pans before removing them.
Place the cooled muffins on a wire rack. At this point you can eat them, slightly warm and toasty, or you can allow them to cool completely for storing.
These muffins are best served warm. If you are not planning to eat them right out of the oven, allow them to cool completely. Place the cooled muffins in an airtight container and store in the fridge until ready to eat.
Once you are ready to serve the muffins, which incidentally they make great snacks during the week or are a perfect sidekick to any dinner that requires warm fluffy bread—which is like every single dinner in my house—then you can place them in a preheated 350° F oven and warm them through for a few minutes. I’d say about 5 minutes should do the trick.
If you haven’t guessed it by now, I have a love for bread. All things bread. I’m always looking for any excuse to make a bread post. Warm, fresh out of the oven bread posts that are easy to make and super tasty to eat. So if you ever get tired of reading posts about bread and you get bored of seeing mouth-watering images of bread, I do apologize, but I can’t help it. You can send your complaints to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I feel bad for those looking for “gluten-free” on my blog, but I do promise to expand my gluten-free section in the near future. Just as soon as I finish eating all the bread I plan on making.
If you love pesto as much as I do—even as much as my family does and believe me if you knew my family you’d know just how much they love pesto—then I highly encourage you to give this recipe a try.
These muffins are the perfect accompaniment to any Italian pasta dinner. They promise to soak up all the rich pasta sauce on your plate and not leave any behind. They also promise to become your new favorite muffin recipe.
Yield: 12 muffins
For the Pesto:
- ½ cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
- ¼ cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves
- 2 cloves of garlic
- ⅛ cup pine nuts
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
- ½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, plus more if needed
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest
- 1 teaspoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
For the batter:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 large eggs, beaten
- ⅔ cup olive oil
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
- 1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a standard 12 muffin pan with melted butter or cooking spray. Set aside.
2. Make the pesto: in a food processor or blender, add the basil, parsley, garlic, pine nuts, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper, Pulse a few times until the mixture becomes coarse and chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and pulse once more. With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil and pulse briefly to make a coarse paste. The mixture should be thick and slightly creamy. Add the Parmesan and pulse once more to incorporate. Give the pesto a taste, if it is lacking in salt or pepper, add more to taste. Transfer the pesto to a bowl and set aside. It will yield about 1 cup of pesto.
3. To make the batter: in a large bowl, stir or sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, olive oil, and milk. Stir in the thawed and squeezed-dried spinach into the wet ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and pour the spinach mixture into the center. Fold the batter until evenly moistened. The batter will be slightly lumpy. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the pesto and mozzarella just until evenly distributed. Some streaks of pesto may remain, that will give the muffins color. Do not worry about mixing everything perfectly together. It is crucial to not overmix this batter as it will result in dry and tough muffins. Using an ice cream scoop or just a regular spoon, fill the muffin cups level with the rim.
4. Bake the muffins until golden brown, dry, and springy to the touch or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Rotate the pan halfway through baking to ensure evening browning. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Carefully remove the muffins from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature. Store any leftover muffins in an airtight container in the fridge. When ready to eat, warm through in a preheated 350°F oven for about 5 minutes. Enjoy!