We call kale pesto “green sauce” in our house, and in the wintertime it becomes a weeknight staple around here. I do love kale (and it’s everywhere these days—in salads, chips and even smoothies), but most importantly, my toddler loves green sauce. It’s one of the only vegetable variations that I can always count on her devouring. I spread it on her grilled cheeses, I spoon it into her scrambled eggs and frittatas, and I dollop it into soups and pastas. It adds a nutritional punch, and more importantly (for her, at least), it tastes damn good. Who wouldn’t like kale if it were cocooned in pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and good quality extra virgin olive oil? So even though I pretend not to notice when she doesn’t touch her roasted squash or when she pushes away her Brussels sprouts, at least I know I have green sauce in the fridge to back me up later in the week.
For the pesto, you want to use lacinato kale, also referred to as dinosaur kale. It has dark olive green leaves, which are more tender than their curly brethren. After cutting out the tough stems (to do this, fold the leaves in half like a book then run your knife down the side of the stem) the leaves get stuffed in the food processor and whizzed with the remaining ingredients. Easy peasy, and it takes only minutes to make. I know it’s not tomato season at the moment, but this version with roasted tomatoes is Ella’s favorite so I occasionally succumb. Roasting the tomatoes brings out their sweetness, even if they’re somewhat flavorless to begin with. For a more seasonal approach, try tossing the pasta with cubes of caramelized butternut squash. The sweetness of either is an excellent counterpoint to the salty and slightly bitter pesto.
Penne Pasta with Kale Pesto and Roasted Grape Tomatoes
- 2 pints grape tomatoes
- Olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Pinch sugar , optional
- 2 sprigs thyme , optional
- 1 pound penne pasta (regular, whole wheat or brown rice)
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ¾ cup Kale Pesto
- Freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Preheat the oven to 400˚F.
- Spread the tomatoes out on a baking sheet, and toss lightly with olive oil. Season generously with salt and pepper. If the tomatoes aren’t very sweet, sprinkle them with a pinch of sugar. If you have any sprigs of thyme hiding in the vegetable drawer, throw them on. Bake until the tomatoes start to shrivel and collapse, giving the pan a shake once or twice while cooking, about 18-20 minutes. Do Ahead: The tomatoes can be made up to 4 hours in advance. Store at room temperature.
- In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once the tomatoes are done, cook the pasta to “al dente” according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water, then drain the pasta. Put the noodles back into the pot over medium-low heat. Add the butter and the kale pesto. Toss to coat. Add ¼-1/2 cup of the cooking liquid to create a smooth sauce. Fold in the tomatoes. Remove the pot from the heat and add a handful of freshly grated Parmesan cheese along with salt and pepper to taste. If the pasta looks dry, add a bit more of the cooking water. Divide the pasta into bowls and garnish with more Parmesan. Serve!
- 1 bunch lacinato (aka Dinosaur) kale, ribs removed and discarded
- 2 garlic cloves , peeled
- 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
- ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup good quality extra virgin olive oil
- Coarsely chop the kale leaves and measure out 4 packed cups (from about 1 small bunch or ½ large bunch). In a food processor with the blade running, add the garlic cloves and chop. Add the kale, pine nuts, Parmesan cheese and a healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Process until coarsely chopped, scraping down the sides as needed. Add the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of water. Process to a paste. With the blade running, slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil until just combined (don’t over-process, otherwise the olive oil can taste bitter). Taste and add additional salt, pepper and/or lemon juice as needed. Do Ahead: The pesto can be made up to 5 days in advance. Transfer to a bowl and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Cover and refrigerate.