Kale Pesto

Dinner, Pasta

When I think about making pesto, a romantic little picture is painted in my brain. I’m in a rustic, Tuscany-style home, barefoot in some sort of oldish, wrinkled – yet totally chic – long, linen dress, in a kitchen that’s older than my great, great grandma, and I’m there making pesto with the guidance of a sweet Italian old woman I can barely communicate with.

I’m adding stuff to the mortar and pestal, grinding it up and we’re laughing and looking adorable. The pesto is made from fresh basil that I picked just a few moments before, the cheese made from the neighbor’s cow and the garlic is fresh from the early morning’s walk (because I imagine you can just walk down the street and run into garlic everywhere. I dunno?). I’ve never been to Italy, sadly, so I’m not positive, but in my brain this is how it works.

The real life story of this pesto is that it was made by a girl living in LA who’s had one too many tootsie rolls this past week and needs a proper dinner. I have electricity so I opted to make this using a food processor, though a pretty mortar and pestal is totally on my Christmas list!

I’m a pretty big fan of pestos that aren’t traditional (evidence: here and here), which makes me believe that maybe I should be calling them something other than “pestos,” but whatever. This “pesto” is what I like to think of as a basil-no-longer exists kind of pesto. It celebrates the changing season, so kale is in place of fresh basil.

In this instance I used dino. Mainly because it’s called dino and that’s the coolest name in the world for a vegetable. If I was a dude I totally wish my name was dino.

Also, do you think dinosaurs ate dino kale? Hope so.

This pesto has been made a few times and through a lil’ testings I found some things out.

First up, you need to destem the kale. Like as in, run your knife alongside the stem and slice off the leaves. The stems have a lot of extra water that you don’t need, and I found little stem strings all up in my pesto. Stems be gone!

Secondly, the kale needs to be super dry after the blanch. A few paper towels do the trick.

Thirdly, I liked the pistachios to be toasted. If you’re feeling lazy and disobedient, you can skip this step–it’s not the end of the world, though I did prefer it.

Fourth, Target sells some really cool pasta. Yeah, Target, as in “TARGÉT” Wild, right?

This pesto is surprisingly bright, healthy, nutty and a teeny bit spicy (thanks to the garlic and red pepper flakes). The reserved pasta water (that is noted below) really helps with giving the pesto a great consistency once tossed with the pasta. I’m so into it!

I’m loving the idea of making this at the beginning of the week and adding it to single portions of pasta for a quick lunch or dinner. Single person pasta dishes are the ticket!

Kale Pesto

Print this recipe!

Pasta (I used trottole)
1 bunch of dino kale (weight: 1/2 lb.), destemmed and loosely chopped
1 garlic clove
1/3 cup deshelled, unsalted pistachios
1 small lemon
1/3 cup Parmesan-Reggiano finely grated
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
1/2 cup reserved pasta water

1. Bring a heavily salted medium pot of water to a boil. Add the kale, being sure to submerge it in the water, and blanch for 2-4 minutes. Using a large slotted spoon (some other hand-strainer of some sort or even a tablespoon would work too), transfer the kale to a colander. Allow to cool slightly and then transfer to a bed of a few paper towels and dry thoroughly. (And hey! if you have one of those salad spinner things, by all means use it in place of the paper towel situation.)

2. To a small saucepan, add the pistachios and toast over medium-low heat for 2 minutes, tossing the pistachios every 30 seconds or so to ensure an even toast.

3. To the food processor, add the garlic and toasted pistachios; pulse until the mixture resembles a coarse meal. Add the blanched kale and juice from your lemon. Pulse again until the kale is broken up and nearly smooth. Using a spatula, scrape down the sides. Throw in the Parmesan-Reggiano and pinch of red pepper flakes. Pulse again and while the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Salt to taste (I added about 1/2 teaspoon, plus 2 pinches of salt).

3. If you’re not going to use right away, transfer to a bowl, top with a teaspoon of olive oil and cover with plastic wrap. This will be good in the fridge for up to 3 days (maybe even 5 days, but you might be pushing it).

4. Add the pasta to the salted boiling water (previously used for the kale) and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of pasta water. Add the drained pasta back to the pot and add a few tablespoons of pesto. Toss, adding a few splashes of pasta water until it reaches your desired consistency. Top with some shavings of Parmesan-Reggiano.

Yields 1 cup pesto

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Leave a Reply

  • Reply kate May 20, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    looks and sounds so good! a few questions…
    1. i forgot to add the salt to the boiling water! what can i do about this? the kale is already blanched………
    2. does the kale need to be completely dry after being blanched?
    3. would a hand immersion blender work as well??

    • Reply Adrianna Adarme May 20, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      1. No biggie re the salt in the blanched kale. You can just add salt later!
      2. Yes, I’d dry it off with some paper towels.
      3. Eh, hand immersion blenders sometimes have trouble chopping up chunky stuff, but give it a go! There’s a good chance it’ll work!

  • Reply Lauren @ Healthy Food For Living November 30, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    I made this with baby kale (no blanching required!) and it was fantastic! MUCH better than traditional basil pine nut pesto, in my opinion. Will definitely be making this over and over again =).

    • Reply Adrianna November 30, 2012 at 3:49 pm

      YAY! So glad.

  • Reply meatballs & milkshakes November 15, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    I love making kale pesto! I think I might have to use up the leftover kale in the fridge tonight and make some!

  • Reply Tandy Sue Hogate November 12, 2012 at 5:04 pm

    This looks amazing! I never considered using Kale for pesto. Certainly going to give it a try. 🙂
    Tandy on behalf of everyone at A Moment with Mom.

  • Reply marie November 9, 2012 at 8:41 am

    i made this last night and it was great. definitely a keeper, thanks!

    • Reply Adrianna November 9, 2012 at 10:02 am


  • Reply marla November 7, 2012 at 6:18 am

    LOVE the sound of this!! A must try 🙂

  • Reply Kitty November 6, 2012 at 9:27 am

    Love this ideal Kale Pesto? Who would have known! I’m ready for some healthy kale pesto!

  • Reply maria November 6, 2012 at 7:51 am

    looking tasty 🙂

  • Reply Heather@SugarDish(Me) November 6, 2012 at 4:18 am

    And so! I’ve just found dinner which is awesome because I’m too busy to worry about what I’m feeding my family. Annnnd I already have everything I need to make this. So thankyouthankyouthankyou!

  • Reply candi November 5, 2012 at 6:34 pm

    “1/3 cup pistachios, unsalted and deshelled and unsalted”

    from your description i’m guessing you meant toasted instead of the 2nd unsalted 😀

    • Reply Adrianna November 5, 2012 at 6:57 pm

      Thank you for catching! Toasting the pistachios in the written instructions so it was just an extra “unsalted.” 🙂

  • Reply Coleen Patrick November 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Love parm, kale and pistachios, so can’t wait to try this!!

  • Reply Cass @foodmyfriend November 5, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    You are hilarious 😛 Why is there no tall dark and handsome man teaching you?! I made a pesto pasta for dinner last night. It was rocket based though. Nom!

    • Reply Adrianna November 5, 2012 at 5:19 pm

      Haha!! That’s a very good point.

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