Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Kale Pesto | Why Didn't I Think of That?

It was one of those heel-of-hand to forehead moments when I realized that I could make pesto from kale! Duh!  Didn't I make pesto from spinach years ago, when there wasn't enough of my own basil? Wasn't it pretty good? Hadn't I read about using cilantro in a pesto?

So I had a minor epiphany when I skimmed a magazine at the doctor's office and saw "kale pesto" featured. Genius, I thought. But then, as I looked for recipe variations, I found that it was not so genius, after all. Pretty common, in fact.

I must have been living under a rock.

Still, and even though kale has lost its luster as the #1 super food, I have been looking for more ways to make kale a part of my meal planning.  And I'm lucky that Mr. Rosemary likes it.

My favorite way to use kale is to saute it in garlic and oil and then add cooked brown rice to it, dressing it up with pieces of roasted red pepper and a bit of feta. I've made kale chips and even convinced a few finicky teenagers to eat them. And I love massaged kale salads. Just plain, though, kale's a bit much.

But kale pesto? That made it a whole lot more versatile. Now that I've woken up, I've added kale pesto to mayonnaise to spread on sandwiches and added it to spaghetti sauce and soups. Just like traditional pesto. (Duh!)

Isn't it funny that pesto has gone mainstream and become almost ordinary, like marinara or mayonnaise. One of these days, McDonald's will be using pesto!

Pesto -- in its original form of basil, Parmesan, garlic and pine nuts -- didn't enjoy widespread popularity until the 80's. It used to be considered "gourmet" before then.

But when food processors invaded every day kitchens, pesto was catapulted to universal popularity, a popularity that doesn't look like its going to end anytime soon. (Just like kale.) It certainly makes sense that kale could easily substitute for basil.  So could mint. So could cilantro, although I have a few friends who wouldn't go for that, no matter how much cheese and garlic was in it.

The first time I veered off the traditional pesto path, I used spinach and walnuts. And, to be honest, the difference between the basil and pine nuts version and this one was minimal. 

So why did it take me a few years to use kale? Slow learner? Late bloomer? 

Whatever the reason, I'm now sold on kale pesto. It was wonderful in this pasta dish with mushrooms, using pipette rigate, a pasta shape that's not just fun to eat, but allowed the pesto to sneak into all those ridges.

Kale & Walnut Pesto with Mushrooms and Pipette Rigate
adapted from Real Simple

1 bunch kale, thick stems discarded and leaves torn (about 12 cups)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound pipette rigate, or any other small shaped pasta
2 tablespoons butter
1 pound button mushrooms, quartered

Bring a large pot of  water to a boil. Add the kale and cook until it's bright green; doesn't take long, half a minute. Using tongs, move the kale to a colander, reserving the cooking water. Squeeze dry when cool enough to handle.

In a food processor, combine the kale, Parmesan, garlic, and the walnuts. Process until finely chopped. With the machine running, add the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream.
Bring the reserved cooking water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package directions.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, and saute until lightly brown. Remove from the heat.

Drain the pasta when done, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the pesto and ¼ cup of the reserved cooking water and toss to coat. Add the mushrooms, adding more cooking water if the pasta seems dry. Serve the pasta and feel noble that you're eating kale.


  1. I often have those "head slapping moments" of "why didn't I think of that". Even though some have moved on from kale, it is still a super food and should stay on the menu.


    1. Yep, Bonnie, I think it's a keeper. Along with blueberries. I'm glad some super foods just taste super.

  2. I eat kale almost everyday, in salads, soups, sauce or dip. It is so delicious and good for you. Love your pesto too, Rosemary.

    1. I'm a believer now, too, Angie. And if I can work kale in every day like you, that would be great!

  3. I think this might be the best way to eat kale that I've ever seen (and maybe the ONLY way I'll ever get Bill to eat it). What a terrific idea (and one that hadn't dawned on me either :)).

    1. It sure makes it easy, Liz. Although I don't really like doing it, I'm not above "sneaking" the good stuff in. (But how could anything with garlic and Parmesan not be good?)

  4. What a great way to eat lots of kale without it just being a salad - this looks so tasty :D

    Choc Chip Uru

    1. Kale salads can be a bit much. This is a great way to enjoy it, Uru.

  5. I think kale pesto would be delicious Rosemary. It is such an easy way to pack a lot of flavor as well as nutrition into a dish.

    1. It is an easy way to add flavor -- of course, the garlic and Parmesan doesn't hurt, Val!

  6. Using kale sounds good to me! Why wait for fresh basil in summer when you can use kale now. Great post Rosemary! Thank you!

    1. Thanks, Roz. I've made this a couple times now. Even put it on pizza! Very versatile. (Although I love the basil!)

  7. I really have to try this -- love the idea. Never thought of make pesto this way either. I happened to see a recipe for pesto made with collard greens today. That blows my mind even more than using kale to make it. I gotta get busy in the kitchen. ;-)

    1. I guess it makes sense once you think about it, John, that any herb/green, or a mix. would make a good pesto. I learned that the word "pesto" comes from Italian word pestato, which is the past participle of pestare -- to pound, crush. I wish I could make pesto with a mortar and pestle the way I've seen it done, but I'm too impatient. Food processor!


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