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Guest Blogging Fridays: JR’s Winter Pesto

March 25, 2011

This recipe came about in one of those mom emergencies where the kids act as if the whole world will end because you didn’t make the food that they want to eat at that particular moment. Normally, I wouldn’t cave into demands but when daddy is gone, keeping your sanity has greater priority than sticking to your line in the sand. On this night I had made a lovely tomato sauce that no one wanted to eat. My four year old screamed for “green pasta” instead. That is code in our family for pesto.

There is no basil to be had here in winter, so I had to think quick. I can’t use bottled pesto because I have an allergy to tree nuts, which most of the jarred brands use because pine nuts are so expensive. I had just roasted some baby kale and with a wing and a prayer, threw it into a blender with pine nuts, pecorino and olive oil. No more than five minutes later, two completely sated children looked back at me with green pesto dripping from their smiling lips. Crisis averted. Mom and green vegetables save the day.

The added bonus: kale is a nutritional powerhouse. It’s packed with anti-oxidants, beta carotene, vitamins C & K, and calcium. I make it twice a week, roasted til crispy like chips, sauteed in ginger and soy or even on pizza. Hidden in pesto, the kids didn’t even realize how healthy it is.

Winter Pesto


  • 1 box pasta (short or long works equally well for pesto)
  • 1/2 pound fresh kale greens, thick stems removed (we love baby kale or lacinato kale if you can find it)
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2/3 cup toasted pine nuts (feel free to substitute cashews or walnuts)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 handfuls pecorino romano, grated (or parmigiano if you like it better)

  1. Toast nuts gently in a dry pan until fragrant–be vigilant that they don’t burn.
  2. Coarsely chop kale. Roast kale and garlic in a 425 degree oven for about 15 minutes until bright green.
  3. Meanwhile boil pasta according to directions, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water when draining.
  4. Pulse nuts, salt, pepper, kale and garlic in food processor until finely chopped. With motor running, slowly add oil.
  5. Toss the pasta with the pesto, thinning with reserved pasta water if necessary.
  6. Sprinkle with cheese.
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