Pasta with Creamy Kale Pesto #SundaySupper

by Anne Papina on August 26, 2012

Creamy Kale Pesto

Good food doesn’t need to be complicated. Take, for example, pesto. I have to admit, I often find myself purchasing the pre-made stuff, yet homemade sauce literally takes minutes to prepare. Why do I do that? For some, I know, that fear of making a sauce from scratch, especially on a weeknight, often seems out of reach. For me it’s a matter of laziness, but whenever I make it from scratch, I’m reminded of how simple and oh so much better it is. This week, Webicurean is pleased to participate in the #SundaySupper Back to School event, providing 30 minute options for your busy weeknights. This creamy kale pesto is a great example.

In Italian, the word pesto comes from the word pestare “to pound, to crush.” While it’s been around for centuries, the first recipe to appear in print was in 1863, in Giavanni Ratto’s Genoese bible La Cuciniera Genovese. The original recipe, Battuto alla Genovese -Pesto (battuto meaning chopped herbs), calls for a clove of garlic, basil, grated Parmigiano Reggiano and Fiore Sardo cheeses, pounded in a mortar with a little butter until reduced to a pulp. Oil is then added “in abundance.” Of course, no measurements are given! Ratto goes on to recommend using this to season lasagna, tagliatelle and gnocchi.

Not only is pesto generally a crowd pleaser, it’s also one of those dishes where children can help in the kitchen. For example, my great-nephew, Mark, makes a pretty mean pesto. He’s all of 11 years old, but he’s a quick student when it comes to culinary tasks. Morgan and I may have inadvertently sent him on the path to pesto by getting married! True story. It all started with these wedding favors, filled with basil seeds and the family’s pesto recipe on the back.

basilico wedding favors

He planted those seeds, and his basil plants flourished! Now he treats everyone to pesto all the time. Look at the size of those basil leaves, and he prefers to chop the basil by hand. I’m not sure why, but this is how my family has always prepared the “green pasta.” Like any good Italian, he measures nothing but gathers a bunch of basil, then chops it up with three to four cloves of garlic, then eyeballs the Parmesan and olive oil.  Paisano!


Originally, I intended this post to be about traditional Genoese Pesto. After all, with at least half of my ancestors hailing from Genoa, to write about any other “pesto” could be considered, well, sacrilege. Happenstance, however, threw me a curve ball when my plan to make pesto nearly came to a halt as I realized that the basil on hand was starting to turn. Not to be detoured, I salvaged what I could, then looked to the fridge where I discovered a lovely bunch of Lacinato kale, just waiting to be consumed. Could I? Should I?

Well, I did, and the results were fabulous! Lacinato kale (sometimes called Dinosaur or Tuscan kale), is a hearty plant and a nutritional powerhouse. What better way to sneak a little extra veggie into your kids’ diets (or into yours for that matter)? Not only did it blend well with the basil, it lent a vibrant green color that remained green, unlike basil which eventually turns the sauce brownish. This recipe is pretty flexible too. If you’re really short on time, you can skip finishing it off in the oven, and enjoy the pasta as soon as it’s tossed with the pesto. After all, pesto is meant to be a raw sauce. Personally, I prefer to have my kale cooked a bit, so I popped it in the oven for a few minutes which mellows the flavor some. Either way, it’s sure to please.

Shall we begin?

boiling water

First, let’s get a big pot of salted water on (about a tablespoon for every three quarts).  You may as well ready your food processor or blender too.

creamy kale pesto ingredients

Meanwhile start gathering the ingredients.

chopped garlic

Give both the garlic and pine nuts a rough chop before adding to the food processor, reserving about a tablespoon of pine nuts for garnish. I should note that I cheated a bit here and bought pre-roasted pine nuts from Trader Joe’s.

chopped garlic and pinenuts

Process until finely chopped.

olive oil and garlic

Add in the olive oil and give it a good whirl. Yes, I know, this is a great departure from traditional methods, but hey, we’re trying to streamline things here!

tuscan kale

Before adding the kale, it needs to be stripped from the stems then given a rough chop. Is your water boiling yet? Get that pasta in the water! It’s all about  multitasking.

chopped dino kale

Then pack the kale tightly into the measuring cup. See those leaves trying to escape? Don’t let them–shove ’em back down. Follow the same routine with the basil. You’ll need three cups in all (two kale, one basil).

pesto in the making

The food processor does the rest of the work. If you add the greens one cup at a time, it’ll be much easier. Once you have this consistency, add the cheeses and butter, then whirl until completely blended.

pasta with kale pesto

The pasta should be done by now, so drain it then toss with the pesto sauce.  At this point, you could simply serve it as is. Or, if you’re like me and want your kale cooked a bit, prep it for the oven.

kale pesto in baking dish

Spread the pasta mixture into a baking dish. Drizzle on about 1/2 cup of cream, then sprinkle some Parmesan and the remaining pine nuts on top.

baked pasta with creamy kale pesto

It only needs a few minutes, but what emerges is slightly golden on top and creamy pesto goodness below.  It’s especially good with a little crushed red pepper on top!

5.0 from 4 reviews
Pasta with Creamy Kale Pesto
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
This pesto gives you the best of both worlds--the flavors of basil and garlic, blended with a nutritional powerhouse, kale.
Recipe type: Main
Serves: 4-6
  • ¾ lb elbow macaroni (or your favorite noodle)
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, peeled
  • ¼ cup toasted pine nuts, with 1 tbsp set aside
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup tightly packed basil
  • 2 cups tightly packed Lacinato kale
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ⅛ cup grated Pecorino Sardo (or Pecorino Romano)
  • 4 tbsp softened butter
  • ½ cup heavy cream (optional, for baking)
  1. Preheat oven to 375F.
  2. In a large pot, bring about 6 quarts of salted water to a boil. Add the elbow macaroni and cook for about 7 minutes until al dente (if you used a different pasta, follow the cooking instructions on the package). Drain, toss with a little olive oil, and set aside.
  3. Give the garlic and pine nuts a rough chop, then whirl in the food processor until mashed. Add the olive oil, and give another good whirl.
  4. To the food processor, add the kale and basil one cup at a time, processing until all leaves are chopped up.
  5. Next, add in the cheeses and butter. Process until completely blended.
  6. In a large bowl or pot, toss the pasta with the pesto until every noodle is covered. The pasta can be served at this point, or proceed to the baking steps below.
  7. Transfer pasta mixture to a baking dish. Drizzle cream evenly over the top, then sprinkle on some Parmesan cheese and the reserved pine nuts.
  8. Bake at 375 for about 15 minutes until golden.
This is also delicious with leftover roasted chicken chopped up and tossed with the pasta.


Here are some additional quick and easy meals from the #SundaySupper team–more than 50 dinners that take 30 minutes or less. It’s like having an entire cookbook in one post!

On Sunday, you can join us on Twitter throughout the day. Also, we’ll be meeting up at 7:00 p.m. EDT for our weekly #SundaySupper live chat where we’ll talk about Back to School Meals and ways to make meal time easier! Just search the hashtag #SundaySupper.

Please note, I earn a modest commission from any Amazon links presented in this article.


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