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.
Nutritional values are estimates only. See our full nutrition disclosure here.
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. 😂