Who says you can only make a pesto with basil? I’m a huge fan of whipping up pestos from all manner of vegetation (and not always for pasta, either…remember this one?). Arugula pesto, spinach pesto, cilantro pesto…if you can puree it, add some garlic and a little cheese, odds are it’s going to taste delicious.
We recently had a large amount of baby kale sitting in our refrigerator, and after about 3 days of nothing but salads, I had to put my foot down — mama needed some pasta. I proposed that we try a kale pesto, something I’d never made before. I figured when tossed with big rigatoni noodles and sweet heirloom cherry tomatoes, the result would feel both wholesome and incredibly satisfying.
And was it ever! This pesto was interesting because the bitterness of the greens adds a unique edge to the sauce, but when mixed with a little lemon juice for acidity, parmesan for a salty bite, the tomatoes and just a touch of sugar for sweetness, everything tasted perfectly balanced. Like any other pesto, you can choose to toss this with the pasta of your choice like we did, or serve it as a dip, sauce, or spread. Give it a try this summer! It’s a great way to pack even more nutritive punch to your everyday pesto.
Here’s how to make it:
2.5 cups baby lacinato kale, tightly packed
Scant 1/2 cup of roasted almonds (unsalted)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Zest and juice of one lemon
4 cloves of garlic, peeled (if you like it less garlicky, use 2 cloves)
— Extra virgin olive oil, to taste
— kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to season
— agave nectar or honey (I used about 1/2 a teaspoon), to taste
Combine the kale, almonds, grated parmesan, lemon juice and zest, and the garlic in a food processor. Pulse to chop, about 8 or 10 times, until the mixture just begins to break down and combine. With the food processor running, pour in the olive oil through the feed tube, until you reach the desired consistency for your pesto (more oil for a thinner sauce, less for something thicker and spreadable).
Taste the pesto, then adjust for seasoning (salt, pepper, and if needed, a touch of agave nectar or honey to balance any bitterness). You want the sauce to taste ever so slightly bitter, but not overwhelmingly so. Serve as desired — with pasta, on a cheese board, over steak or chicken, whatever!
To make the pasta dish, as pictured above:
Heat a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil. Season heavily with salt. Add in a 1 lb box of pasta and cook to al dente, according to package directions.
While the pasta cooks, add half a pint halved cherry tomatoes and the pesto to a large bowl. When the pasta is finished cooking, use a spider to transfer the noodles to the bowl (conversely, you can ladle out about half a cup of the cooking liquid, then drain the pasta in a colander and add to the bowl). Toss to combine the tomatoes, pesto, and pasta together. If needed, add in a little of the hot pasta cooking water to thin the sauce and bring it all together. Spoon the pasta into serving bowls, and sprinkle additional parmesan cheese on top. Enjoy!