Meatless Monday: Crazy for Kale Pesto

For many of us in four-season climates, the word “pesto” transports us to the sultry days of summer, when the air is heavy with the perfume of basil. Sigh.

November ain’t exactly basil pesto season, and even though there’s winter squash, sweet potatoes and hearty greens to keep me company on chilly-willy eves, sometimes I get sentimental for some sun-kissed basil lovin’. Like last week.

Lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale: Winter's cure for summer pesto blues. (Kim O'Donnel)

Pesto and penne is exactly what I had in mind, but the bitter, peppery leaves of arugula, even when mixed with ricotta, wouldn’t do the trick this time ‘round. I needed something smoother, mellower and dressed in a shade of gorgeous emerald green, a reminder of easy, breezy summer nights.

The most unlikely of candidates stepped right up to the counter and requested some kitchen face time. Her name: Lacinato Kale. As many of you know, I love to roast kale in the oven, but pesto? Could she really pull it off?

Within 20 minutes, Miz Kale showed me what I had been missing all these wintry nights crying like a baby for summery pesto. She’s right; this is the antidote! To be fair, kale pesto offers none of the heady perfume of basil, but her resulting color is almost identical, a darn-near doppelganger, if I ever saw one.

It’s also less oily, one of my gripes about basil pesto, and feels wholesome on the tongue, like you’re taking good care of yourself. Whaddya know, one cup of kale is off the charts for vitamin K, double the daily recommendation for vitamin A and nearly a day’s worth of vitamin C!

I’ve been using the leftovers in sandwiches, with scrambled eggs and atop beans and rice. This one's a winter keeper.

P.S. I tested this recipe only with lacinato kale; let me know if you venture forth with other varieties.

Kale Pesto
Adapted from “The Real Dirt on Vegetables” by John Peterson

¼- ½ cup chopped walnuts
1 ½ -2 teaspoons salt
½ pound lacinato kale, stems removed, coarsely chopped (1 medium bunch should do)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup olive oil
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
ground black pepper to taste

Toast chopped walnuts in a dry, heavy skillet (such as cast iron) over high heat, stirring constantly until they start to brown and become fragrant. Alternatively, place on a baking sheet and toast at 325 degrees. Keep an eye on nuts – they burn quickly and will get bitter!

Bring about two quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 teaspoon of the salt, then add kale. Cook, uncovered, until tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from pot and drain.

In a blender or food processor, add garlic, walnuts and drained kale and whiz until well combined. Pour in oil in a steady stream, and pulse until combined. Add ½ teaspoon salt, pulse, then taste. Add remaining ½ teaspoon of salt if necessary.

Spoon pesto into a bowl and stir in cheese and pepper.

For ½ pound pasta, use 2-3 tablespoons pesto. Keeps really well in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to a week.

Makes about one cup.

By Kim ODonnel |  November 17, 2008; 10:00 AM ET Meatless Monday , Vegetarian/Vegan
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one of my favorite pestos is green peas and mint. Plain old frozen peas work fine, and my herb garden mint usually survives the winter on my patio (its pretty sheltered).
1 1/2 cups green peas
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup almonds
olive oil
parmesan cheese

Chop the almonds in the food processor, add peas, mint and about 1 Tbs oil. Pulse until smooth, adding oil as needed, season to taste with salt, pepper, garlic and parmesan cheese. The pesto itself is neon green and tastes like spring, very good for the middle of winter when you need cheering up.

Posted by: veginchantilly | November 17, 2008 10:42 AM

I like cilantro pesto. I don't really measure, but I use cilantro, sunflower seeds (or pumpkin), a jalapeno, olive oil, and salt.

Posted by: mollyjade | November 17, 2008 11:04 AM

Could you substitute pine nuts for the walnuts in the kale recipe and for the almonds in the green pea recipe? I don't really like walnuts or almonds.

Posted by: jbird3 | November 17, 2008 11:21 AM

Jbird3, I find pine nuts oily, which is why I choose walnuts (which also offer heart-heathy Omega 3s), but don't see why you can't sub according to your preferences. Try fewer pine nuts to start, then gradually add see what you think.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 17, 2008 11:35 AM

Yuch. Like kale, peas etc. Like pesto.

Rifle season opened this weekend my friends and I will donate 600lbs of venison to local homeless shelters and charities so far this year.

Bambi is out in impressive numbers this year. Shame Fairfax Cty doesnt at least have a bow season to stop the inhumane slaughter on the roads and the increase in our insurance rates.

And remember bambis and his buddies can be fatal to humans and your dogs with tick norne diseases.

Die bambi die!

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | November 17, 2008 12:23 PM

Wow, this sounds like fun to make! Do you think a blender would work instead of a food processor on this one?

Posted by: Merdi | November 17, 2008 1:07 PM

Could you please post the directions for roasted kale here, too? I am intrigued by the idea. Would it work for cabbage or another cruciferous leafy veg? (I have made roasted cauli, brocc and brussels, and loved them -- but have not roasted leafy veggies... yet.)

Posted by: Agathist | November 17, 2008 1:17 PM

MMM. Sunflower seeds. That's another good idea for a substitution. Probably a cheaper one, too.

Posted by: jbird3 | November 17, 2008 1:49 PM

What on earth is up with the tentmaker? Besides, it's only a sport if the deer are armed.


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | November 17, 2008 2:06 PM

Obviously fairlington Blade your ignorant vegan butt has never been hunting.

And right now there are more deer in Fairfax county than back in 1750 bubba.

Would you rather have deer starving and causing even more destruction to landscape in surburbia, more deer and car accidents and more tick borne disease?

Sorry vegan boy deer heard need to be thinned. Hunting is the most effective way
unless you want to bring back wolves and pumas. Might lose a couple of vegan spawn that way!

Ooops sorry your vegan butt doesnt leave DC. Watch out for the coyotes in Rock Creek Park.

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | November 18, 2008 12:27 PM

Actually, I cooked up a nice flank steak on the grill last night. Marinated in soy, peanut oil and garlic (no fresh ginger on hand).

Oh, and you need to refresh your knowledge of NoVa geography. Fairlington is on the Virginia side of the Potomac (Fairfax + Arlington--get it?)


Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | November 18, 2008 3:32 PM

Punk I know where Fairlington is.

You missed the point but that is typical of liberals!

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | November 18, 2008 5:22 PM

Omarthetentmaker, this is your second warning. These are the rules: "User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site." One more time, and a request will be made to ban you from posting comments.

Posted by: Kim ODonnel | November 18, 2008 6:19 PM

Tentmaker - the main point appeared to be that I'm a vegan. Hard to match that up with my meal last night. With regards to your geography, you were the one who wrote "Ooops sorry your vegan butt doesnt leave DC." I live in Fairlington and post as the Blade.

I respect this blog too much to get involved in a slanging match with a troll. So, chill, and if you're looking for a great value in VA dessert wine, I suggest you grab a bottle of Phileo. It'll do your soul good. As for the deer, enjoy. I'm a big fan of venison. I'd recommend a bottle of Bogle Old Vine Zinfandel or a bottle of Turley if you've got the scratch.


The Fairlington Blade

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | November 18, 2008 8:12 PM


My apologies. I try to keep a light tone and didn't entirely succeed. Love the blog and will avoid future confrontations.


Paul (aka The Fairlington Blade)

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | November 18, 2008 8:16 PM


Again your biases our showing. You need to treat everyone fairly. And not discriminate against us meateaters.

And when and where was the first warning!

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | November 19, 2008 7:36 AM

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