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  • Megan

kale + walnut pesto pasta

Updated: May 29, 2023

In this dish:

- walnuts and almonds

- shredded pecorino romano

- kale

- lemon juice

- salt & pepper

- olive oil

- dried pasta

Is pesto on your radar?

I used to consider pesto finicky and expensive—cups and cups of fresh basil AND pine nuts? forget about it!—so it was rarely on my mind.

ENTER kale pesto with walnuts. What a beautiful, abundant, and tasty way to get your greens and get ‘em easy.

This pesto is still somewhat exclusive: you need some sort of blending tool, whether it’s a food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle. I don’t have too many processing needs, so I’ve gotten by fine with a mini KitchenAid that holds about 3 cups. It’s less expensive than a full-size processor, and it takes up less space.

Once you’ve got your friendly little blending tool set up, throw in:

A handful of lightly roasted walnuts (I add some almonds too, if I have them; I first pop the nuts in a 350° oven for about 10 minutes to give them more flavor; then let them cool a bit before processing them)

A handful of grated hard, salty cheese (parmesan or pecorino romano is good)

Two cloves of garlic

Chopped or torn-up kale (as much as your little blending tool will hold!)

Lemon juice (the juice from one healthy wedge should do it)

Salt and pepper

Then lock your top and GO. As you blend, pour olive oil slowly into the processor through the lid’s opening. You’ll do this slow pour until you see the pesto come together into a smooth paste.

Since I’ve got a baby processor, I scrape down my first batch of paste to make room for MORE KALE (plus an extra sprinkling of cheese and lemon juice).

The most beautiful thing about this dish, aside from its springtime color, is how forgiving it is. You don’t really need exact measurements. I know this because I’ve made it multiple times and never wrote down a recipe. Go by how it looks, and taste along the way.

Before you get too easy-breezy, though, listen up: no matter how solid your pesto is, it won’t sing without proper pasta etiquette.

To bring this pesto home, remember to do three things:

1. Salt your pasta water. I bring my water to a boil before throwing in a generous handful of coarse kosher salt. I also pour a drizzle of olive oil into the boiling water to keep the noodles from sticking to each other.

2. Cook to al dente. Nibble your noodles along the way and stop the cooking as soon as they reach a point of pleasant chewiness. Mushy noodles will cast sad, sad clouds over your pesto parade.

3. Reserve your pasta water. As your noodles finish cooking, scoop out and reserve at least a half cup of the salted pasta water (in my house we lovingly refer to it as hot dog water). This water will be integral—INTEGRAL!—when you add the pesto to your pasta.

So, your noodles are cooked and your salted pasta water reserved. Nice! Now strain out the water and dump the noodles right back into the cooking pot. They’ll probably still have some starchy cooking water still clinging to them, and this is what we want.

Use a spatula to stir in a dollop of your amazing kale pesto. As you stir, slowly pour some of the reserved pasta water back in. This’ll smooth out the pesto into a glossy sauce that uniformly slicks to the noodles instead of sticking to them in irregular clumps. Add more pesto and pasta water until you’ve reached your ideal coverage. You might be inclined to hold back on the pasta water—who wants watery noodles?—but trust. You’re stirring, steam is rising, and the hot dog water is transforming your pasta.

You’re basically done. But because you can:

A little more cheese.

A little more lemon.




EXIT kale pesto.


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