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.
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.
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.
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.
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.