Greens, greens, greens. The profusion continues, and worry not if your favorite/possessed green hasn’t been featured, because I’m not finished yet. Today’s kale pesto pasta recipe is created using fresh Russian kale, but will work with other varieties of kale too.
Making a vegan kale pesto is about as easy as it gets, and similar to my spinach pesto pasta. (If you’re starting to get the impression that I sometimes use pesto as a cop-out for utilizing leafy greens, you are totally correct.)
Real talk: all things considered, kale is bitter and earthy. Some people (me) enjoy this, some people don’t. If you’re on the fence, though, you’ll probably like the kale in this kale pesto; it’s tempered with complementary sweet, acidic and nutty flavors from shallot, olive oil, lemon, and walnuts – and of course, a little bit of basil to bring it all home.
A lot of kale pesto recipes call for blending the kale with a bunch of olive oil and saucing it directly onto the pasta. As a lover of olive oil and bitterness, I’m totally on board, but I’m trying to go for more general appeal here. The addition of cherry tomatoes helps in that arena too… although, I could honestly put these tomatoes on just about anything. 🙂
Cooking the blended kale and walnut mixture in oil a little bit will soften and sweeten the kale just enough. It takes a little bit more oil than the spinach version to balance things, but in exchange you get all of those nutritional benefits like Vitamin A, Vitamin C, folate, and omega-3’s, all whilst using up an overflowing garden veggie that my dad once un-fondly referred to as “ditchweed”.
Following my advice is especially important because we don’t have the umami powers of parmesan cheese in this vegan version (although, a little vegan parmesan sprinkled on top is fantastic). In conclusion, go ahead and put raw bits of kale on your pasta, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
In the pictured pasta, we used some penne made of wild rice that I found at MOM’s and I was pretty surprised with how good it was. The color was a bit ghastly though, so it’s nice that my vegan kale pesto enrobed it so effectively :).
Vegan Kale Pesto Pasta with Pan-Roasted Cherry Tomatoes
Delicious and savory vegan kale pesto pasta, made with fresh summer kale and walnuts. Blistered cherry tomatoes add a punch of sweetness to round out this hearty plant-based meal, easily made gluten-free.
For the vegan kale pesto:
- 1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts
- 6 oz de-stemmed kale (about 1 bunch, weigh after de-stemming / 6 packed cups)
- 0.75 oz fresh basil (1 standard small herb bunch)
- 1/4 cup plain, unsweetened non-dairy milk
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice (about 1/2 lemon)
- 1/2 tsp salt
For the pan-roasted cherry tomatoes:
- 1 tsp olive oil
- 8 oz halved cherry tomatoes
For the vegan kale pesto pasta:
- 8 oz pasta of choice (I used brown rice penne)
- 1/2 cup reserved pasta water
- 1 and 1/2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 shallots thinly sliced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
Make the pasta:
Bring a pot of generously salted water to a boil, and cook your pasta to al dente, according to package directions. Drain it, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water. If using rice-based gluten-free pasta, rinse with cold water. Otherwise, drain but do not rinse.
Make the vegan kale pesto:
Add the toasted walnuts to your food processor and pulse a few times until crumbled.
Add the kale, basil, nondairy milk, lemon juice, and salt, and continue to pulse, stopping to stir and scrape the sides if needed, until the kale and basil are finely chopped. Add more lemon juice to taste if desired, and set aside.
Make the pan-roasted cherry tomatoes:
Warm the olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until nicely browning and starting to get a little juicy - about 5-7 minutes.
Put the finishing touches on the vegan kale pesto pasta:
In a large pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and a sprinkle of salt. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the shallot is softened. Add the garlic and cook for just about 60 seconds more, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is fragrant.
Add the pesto and stir. Cook, stirring frequently, until the kale softens slightly and turns brighter green, about 3-4 minutes depending on the variety of kale used.
Add the cooked pasta, reserved pasta water, and cook, stirring frequently, until the sauce has thickened slightly and clings to the pasta, and is warm throughout. Remove from the heat and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm. Leftovers will store for up to 3-4 days, once cooled to room temperature.
TOASTING WALNUTS: If your walnuts aren't toasted, put them in a pan over medium heat. Keep a close eye on them until they're smelling nutty, and remove them from the heat immediately when that happens.
NUTS/NUT-FREE: Almonds can be a workable stand-in for walnuts here, although their milder flavor doesn't temper the kale as much. Pine nuts will also work well. I haven't tested making this without nuts.
VERSION WITHOUT BASIL: Substitute a smaller quantity of Italian parsley, or omit the basil and cook the kale mixture for a little bit longer.
KALE VARIETY: Russian kale (aka red kale) and standard curly kale work well. Lacinato (aka Tuscan or Dinosaur) kale will also work but consider your audience, as it's even more bitter and intense.
CHEESY FLAVOR: Nutritional yeast or miso added to the pesto mixture will give more of a "cheesy" flavor, I don't find this strictly necessary though.