You guys, I can’t stop with cold pasta dishes this summer! It’s all I want to eat! I had a half bunch of kale leftover from another recipe this week, so I decided to make some kale pesto pasta. At 99 cents a bunch, kale makes for a far less expensive pesto than fresh basil, and it has a wonderfully earthy flavor (although if you’re not a fan of kale’s flavor to begin with, you probably won’t be a fan of this either). Plenty of fresh lemon juice, garlic, and a sprinkle of lemon zest at the end make this pasta the perfectly vibrant and fresh dish for summer.
Kale Pesto Pasta
Keep it Simple or Dress it Up
As is my style, I’ve offered the most basic version below. If you have room in your budget and want to take it further, try adding things like sliced grilled chicken, halved grape tomatoes, or even some briny chopped artichoke hearts. It’s good enough on its own that I devoured a bowl right after taking the photos, but with a few add-ins it can go from a refreshing summer side to a full-on meal.
And if you’re not a fan of kale, or can’t get kale for a reasonable price, my Parsley Pesto Pasta is another great budget-friendly option.
Kale Pesto Pasta
- 1 lb pasta ($1.49)
- 4 cups kale, chopped, loosely packed ($0.50)
- 1/3 cup olive oil, or as needed ($0.82)
- 1 large lemon (1/4 c juice, 1 Tbsp zest) ($0.75)
- 1 clove garlic ($0.08)
- 1/4 cup chopped walnuts ($0.57)
- 1/3 cup Parmesan, grated ($0.55)
- 1/2 tsp salt, or as needed ($0.03)
- Freshly cracked pepper to taste ($0.05)
- 4 oz. mozzarella (optional) ($2.00)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil for the pasta. Once boiling, add the pasta and continue to boil until the pasta is tender. Drain in a colander and let cool.
- While the pasta is cooking, prepare the pesto. Pull the kale leaves from the woody stems, and roughly chop into thin strips. Place the kale in a colander and rinse with cool water. Let the excess water drain away.
- Add the chopped and washed kale to a food processor along with the olive oil, 1/4 cup juice from the lemon, garlic, walnuts, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Purée the mixture until smooth and bright green. Add more oil if needed to allow the mixture to become a thick, smooth sauce. Taste the pesto and adjust the salt, pepper, or lemon juice to your liking. Set the pesto aside.
- Once the pasta is drained and cooled to the point where it is no longer steaming, transfer it to a large bowl. Add about half of the pesto and stir until the pasta is coated.
- Dice the mozzarella into small cubes, then add it to the pasta along with about 1 Tbsp of the zest from the lemon. Stir to combine with the pesto pasta. Add more pesto until everything is coated in a thick layer. Top with more freshly cracked pepper and serve, or refrigerate until ready to eat.
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Step by Step Photos
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then add 1 lb. pasta. Continue to boil until the pasta is tender, then drain in a colander until mostly cooled (cool enough that it is no longer steaming, and it will not melt cheese).
While the Pasta is cooking, prepare the kale pesto. Pull the kale leaves from the woody stems, then chop them into thin strips. I used a half bunch, which was about four cups once chopped (loosely packed). Rinse the kale well in a colander with cool water, and let the excess water drain away. Combine the chopped kale with 1 clove garlic, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan, 1/3 cup olive oil, about 1/4 cup juice from the lemon, 1/2 tsp salt, and some freshly cracked pepper.
Process the ingredients until they form a relatively smooth paste. Add more oil, if needed, to make it smooth. Taste the pesto and adjust the lemon, salt, or pepper to your liking.
Once the pasta is mostly cooled, add about half of the kale pesto and stir until the pasta is well coated.
Dice 4 oz. mozzarella and add it to the kale pesto pasta along with about 1 Tbsp zest from the lemon. Stir to combine. Add more kale pesto until everything is coated in a thick layer.
Top with a little more freshly cracked pepper, if desired. DIG IN! Or refrigerate it for later. ;)
I love kale, but I don’t always like to CHEW kale, so this Kale Pesto Pasta is perfect. 😂
The pesto recipe is spot on, wouldn’t change a thing. I only had 3/4 lb rotini, and I added a can of chickpeas for protein. That ended up making 4 entree sized portions. I saved some pasta water and am glad I did, otherwise it would be a little dry.
This was so good! I substituted the kale for spinach since I wasn’t sure if I would like the taste or not and I could hardly tell the difference between it and real basil pesto. I’m definitely going to be making this again, I was so excited to eat this!
This was an excellent, quick, healthy recipe. I cooked a little broccoli as well in the pasta water and chopped it up and stirred it into the pasta when I added the pesto and a bit of the pasta water. You may want to cut down on the lemon juice because you can always add more later but for me; definitely increase the fresh garlic and of course, also use freshly grated parmesan cheese.
I know the nuts are an important part of pesto but is there any substitution for the walnuts? I have a nut allergy, but I’ve heard of using sunflower seeds – do you think this could work?
I think sunflower seeds would probably work well! I haven’t tried it, but I would imagine that it would taste good.
Do you think this would work with spinach? My middle daughter enjoys loves pesto, and I make it all summer/fall with garden basil. However, grocery store basil is pricey, and she finds greens to be bitter. I am thinking spinach will be milder then kale, and help me use up excess spinach(frequently buy large tubs).
I’ve never tried making pesto with spinach, but it’s similar in texture to basil, so I bet it would work! :) You might even be able to find some spinach specific pesto recipes on the web.