Kale pesto goes a lot farther than using a bunch of basil, the traditional ingredient for pesto, and to my mind, is even better. First of all, it keeps its nice green color a lot longer, so when you’re dealing with a heaping helping of pasta like this, your leftovers (if you have any!) won’t have turned an unappetizing brown by the following day. The lovely green color of this kale pesto pasta dish is assisted by a small amount of green peas.
Next, kale is a leafy green packs a whole lot of vitamins and antioxidants into any dish that it graces. And finally, ounce for ounce, it’s less expensive than basil (unless you grow your own). All this being said, if you love your pesto with the flavor of basil, this recipe has room for a small quantity to go along with the kale unless you prefer parsley or cilantro.
If there’s any downside to a mostly kale pesto, it might be its ultra-mild flavor — which is why this dish is embellished with mushroom “bacon.” These smoky-sweet bites give this dish great little bursts of flavor. If you’re a mushroom lover (especially if you love the idea of bacon-y flavored mushrooms), you might like to double the mushroom “bacon” portion of the recipe.
- 1 pound pasta, any short chunky shape
- 1 bunch kale (about 8 ounces; see note)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup frozen thawed green peas
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
- Juice of 1/2 lemon (2 tablespoons)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup basil, cilantro, or parsley leaves
- 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (optional, but highly recommended)
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Dried hot red pepper flakes to taste, optional
Mushroom “bacon” (see note)
- 8 ounces cremini (baby bella) mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon barbecue seasoning (see note)
- Cook the pasta according to package directions until al dente, then drain and return to the cooking pot.
- Meanwhile, rinse the kale and slice thinly, right through the stem. You can do a few leaves at a time, or even the whole bunch if using lacinato.
- Heat the oil in a skillet or stir-fry pan. Add the garlic and sauté until golden, about 2 minutes.
- Add the kale and a little water, and cover. Steam until the kale wilts down and is tender but still bright green, 3 to 5 minutes.
- Transfer the kale mixture to a food processor along with the peas, walnuts, lemon juice, fresh herb of choice, and optional nutritional yeast. Add 1/2 cup water. Pulse on and off until evenly and finely chopped. Add enough additional water so that the mixture flows a bit but is still thick, like a paste.
- Combine the pesto with the cooked and drained pasta in the cooking pot. If need be, add a little more water so that the pesto distributes nicely. Season with salt, pepper, and optional dried hot red pepper flakes. Cover.
- For the mushroom bacon: Clean and stem the mushrooms. Slice thinly; if the caps are large, cut them in half before slicing.
- Combine the syrup, soy sauce, and oil in a medium skillet. Stir to combine.
- When the mixture start to bubble, add the mushrooms and stir to coat. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until they begin to brown and get crisp here and there, about 8 minutes.
- Sprinkle in the seasoning, and stir quickly to distribute. Cook for another minute or two over low heat, then remove from the heat.
- You can stir the mushrooms into the pasta, or use them as a topping. Either way, serve at once.
Use either lacinato or curly green kale for this dish.
If you love the idea of bacon-flavored mushrooms, double this amount. You won’t regret it!
About the barbecue seasoning: You’ll find these kinds of seasoning blends in the spice section of supermarkets. They add a bold flavor note, even in small amounts. Flavors include mesquite, smoky maple, and just plain barbecue. They’re all good!
Amount Per Serving:Calories: 322 Total Fat: 13g Saturated Fat: 1g Trans Fat: 0g Unsaturated Fat: 10g Cholesterol: 0mg Sodium: 301mg Carbohydrates: 44g Fiber: 7g Sugar: 11g Protein: 12g
A couple of quick notes about kale
Though the crazed devotion to all things kale seems to have peaked, it’s still in the category of Most Valuable Vegetable. Kale is a cruciferous vegetable, the family that broccoli and cauliflower are members of. It comes in several varieties, the most commonly available of which are the commonplace curly-leafed type, lacinato (also called dinosaur kale), and Russian kale.
Lacinato kale has long, narrow leaves that are a handsome forest green, sometimes blue-green. Russian Kale is also curly, with red-tipped leaves with a slightly less sweet flavor than its monochromatic counterpart.
In my opinion, though lacinato and Russian kale look quite appealing, the mild, slightly sweet flavor of the curly variety is the most widely adaptable to all manner of preparations. I will gladly use lacinato and Russian kale in bolder cooked dishes, like this kale pesto pasta and in stews. But for raw salads and in smoothies and juices, curly works best for me every time.