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Kale Pesto with Whole Wheat Fusilli


What’s a girl to do when faced with too much kale and too little time? Make pesto!

When it comes to something like pesto, it’s hard to say that anyone has proprietary claims to any one recipe. I did look at this recipe on Tastespotting and this recipe on Food 52 for nut-cheese-oil ratios. In all honesty, I have so much kale on hand that I threw those proportions right out of the window. I just kept tinkering and measuring until I had a sauce that was so good, I wanted to eat more and more of it.

Kale has a clean, bitter flavor that I think pairs better with walnuts than pine nuts. When using walnuts, I like to also use walnut oil. Some Meyer lemon zest keeps the sauce nice and fresh. You can also zest a regular lemon if Meyer lemons are not available to you. If you don’t want to emphasize kale’s refreshing bitterness, you can use just olive oil. It will still taste great.

Kale pesto has an earthier flavor than basil-based pestos, and that flavor demands a heartier pasta like whole wheat. Fusilli is always a good choice for pesto because the spirals catch and capture the sauce beautifully.

It’s always a good idea to toss pasta and pesto together in a separate bowl. You don’t want the Parmesan in the sauce to burn and stick to the bottom of a hot pot or pan. The warm pasta — plus a little of the hot pasta cooking water if needed— will loosen the sauce up without the need for any external heat.

I am looking forward to eating my kale pesto in other ways this week, like on pizza or in lasagna. I hope it freezes well too because I made a lot of it!

Ingredients:

1 pound of whole wheat fusilli

2/3 of a cup of walnuts

2 cloves of garlic

2/3 of a cup of freshly grated Parmesan

The zest of 1 lemon

5 cups of washed and torn kale leaves, no stems and no ribs

1/2 cup of olive oil

1/2 cup of walnut oil

Salt

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. Spread the walnuts out in an even layer on a baking tray. Bake the walnuts until they are nicely toasted. This can take between 6-8 minutes. Be very careful to not let the walnuts burn. Let them cool before making the pesto.

3. While the walnuts are cooling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until it is al dente, about 12 minutes.

4. While the pasta is cooking, combine the garlic and walnuts together in a food processor with some salt. Add the Parmesan and the lemon zest. Pack all the kale into the food processor bowl and with the processor running, slowly drizzle in the olive and walnut oils. Continue to process everything until you have a smooth and creamy sauce. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and pour it into a large bowl. Add the pesto, a dollop at a time, until the pasta is nicely and evenly coated. Serve immediately.

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20 Comments

  1. That is such a beautiful color! You’ll be glad to have the extra. I loved your kale = walnuts = whole wheat pasta train of thought; I couldn’t agree more. I’ve never tried walnut oil in pesto, though, do you like it wherever you like walnuts? Like in arugula pesto? This may open up a whole new world of walnut-oil-using opportunities for me.

    • Thanks, Emmy! Have you ever read Haruki Murakami? I think it’s Kafka on the Shore where he says that you know a bowl of ramen is good when you start contemplating a second bowl before you finish your first. That’s how I feel right now; I ate a big bowl of kale pesto fusilli a few hours ago and still want more!

      One of my favorite salads is arugula, Parmesan and toasted walnuts with a walnut oil and reduced balsamic vinaigrette. It’s just so good. I can’t imagine that deliciousness not translating into arugula pesto! If you try it, definitely let me know how it turns out!

      • J loves Murakami and I have an on-and-off relationship with his books. 🙂 I don’t remember that line but I like it! Of course that is the exact salad I make over & over again when our arugula is going strong in the garden, except that I always just dress it with olive oil and un-reduced balsamic. Thanks for improving that salad for us for this year! 🙂

      • Yeah, his books get kind of weird, but I love them! I *think* that line is in Kafka on the Shore . . . Or Wild Sheep Chase? They kind of blur together after a while!

        I can’t wait to see what you will do with your arugula this year! I don’t have a garden, so I will have to live vicariously through people who do 🙂

    • Oooh! Avocado pesto sounds delicious. Is there a recipe up on your blog? I would love to see it!

      If you like kale, kale pesto is a great thing to make. It’s tasty, so easy to make and quick to put together. And the color is really pretty. Who could ask for more?

  2. What an ingenious way to use kale! 🙂 I had no idea you could turn it into pesto. Would it make a good sandwich spread? Or a pita chip dip?

    • Those are great ideas! A spread for bread? Definitely! And it would make an amazing dip! It’s the perfectly consistency for pita chips — which are really just a vehicle for more dip! You always have the best ideas. Thanks again for the inspiration!

    • Thanks! The great thing is that the pesto stays green! So if you have ever been saddened by yummy basil pesto that turns brown, kale pesto is a good alternative. And it feels really healthy to eat too!

  3. Asked on another kale post if you’d made pesto yet, then saw this one. Oops. 🙂 What a gorgeous shade of green! This looks delicious.

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