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.
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.
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.
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