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Rotini with Kale and Walnut Pesto

Eat Your FoodFamily-FriendlyQuick and EasyPesto

Bright green kale and walnut pesto makes this a kid-friendly dinner into a nutritional powerhouse. Boost the protein by adding lemon pepper chicken.

Photography Credit: Nick Evans | Art Banner Credit: Andy Christensen

Green food can be off-putting, hence, the classic Dr. Seuss book. This is especially true if the green in question is brown-green like some pesto. I’ve struggled getting my kids to eat jarred pesto for this reason. The color can be kinda blah.

But this kale and walnut pesto that I served with rotini pasta is bright green. It’s almost comically green and my kids thought it was hilarious to eat something SO green. Little did they know that it was actually HEALTHY. Like, ridiculously healthy.

This meal comes together really quickly and the only cooking you must do is the pasta! Serve it by itself, with a side salad, or with lemon pepper chicken (my Dad Add). Any way is a good way!

Top view of a spoon with kale pesto on it. The spoon is above a blender jar with more pesto inside.

WHY WALNUT PESTO?

Classic pesto contains pine nuts and basil. These are fine, but they can be expensive, and I like to change it up a bit with different pesto add-ins.

The walnuts in this recipe can be bought economically if you buy the walnut pieces rather than whole walnuts. Kale is also much cheaper than the amount of basil you would need to make fresh pesto, although I still use a handful of basil in this pesto recipe.

Plus, the flavors work nicely. Walnuts and kale have an earthy flavor to them that works well in pesto.

HOW TO GET BRIGHT GREEN PESTO

The trick to bright (BRIGHT) green pesto is to blanch the veggies before you blend them.

Just bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer and dunk the kale and basil for 10 seconds. Don’t over-cook them! Ten seconds is all it takes. Then remove the greens with tongs to let them cool and dry on a baking sheet. You can boil the pasta in the same water!

When you blend the pesto, the color will stick, and you’ll end up with a beautifully green pesto.

SUGGESTIONS AND SUBSTITUTIONS

Pesto can be a very flexible thing and I highly encourage substitutions. If you can’t find walnuts, try pecans. Kale should be pretty available, but the kind of kale can be up to you. Try purple kale or dinosaur kale for a different twist!

Of course, the pasta is flexible as well. I find rotini nice because the pesto really sticks to it, but any similar shaped pasta (penne, for example) works well.

Close up view of easy rotini kale pesto in a white bowl. Roasted chicken breast is sliced and laid on the right side.

MAKE-AHEAD WALNUT PESTO

If you can’t make the pesto fresh, no worries. You can make the pesto in advance and store with plastic wrap pressed directly against the pesto. This will keep it from browning too much. Then just add it to hot pasta and you’re in business. The pesto by itself will keep fine in the fridge (airtight) for three to four days.

You can also freeze pesto for up to three months. Transfer the pesto to an ice cube tray, then pop out the cubes of pesto once hard and store in an airtight container.

HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT PESTO PASTA

Assuming you have leftover pesto rotini, it’ll keep fine in the fridge for two to three days. After that, it starts to lose some of its zing and the pesto will start to brown. While you can reheat it in the microwave, I find it best to reheat it over gentle heat in a pot with a splash of water.

Young boy leaning on table with rotini in his mouth. A blue plate has some more easy kale pesto rotini on one side. A fork rests on another side of the plate next too small pieces of sliced chicken breast.

The DAD ADD

Eat Your Food - Dad Add

This veggie pasta is pretty filling thanks to all the kale and nuts in the pesto, but I like to add some extra protein to my plate. I made a simple pan-seared lemon pepper chicken that goes really well with the flavors.

I say it was the Dad Add, but my kids both snuck pieces of my chicken. A parent is always sacrificing!

REPORT CARD

Eat Your Food - The Kid Report

Like I said, we had a lot of fun with the color on this pasta. I tried to make a joke out of it and my kids thought it was hilarious (WHO PUT GRASS IN THE PASTA?!!) If you eat a piece of green pasta, will it turn your teeth green? These are the types of questions that must be investigated during dinnertime. This was a very different pasta than what my kids were used to, but they ate pretty decent servings of it so I’ll chalk it up as a WIN.

MORE DELICIOUS PASTA RECIPES

Rotini with Kale and Walnut Pesto Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Yield: 4-6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch kale, stems removed
  • 1 cup loosely packed basil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup toasted walnuts
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 12 ounces rotini pasta
  • Parmesan cheese, for serving

For the Lemon Pepper Chicken (Dad Add)

  • 2 chicken cutlets
  • 2 teaspoons lemon pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Method

1 Blanch the kale and basil: Set a pair of tongs or a slotted spoon next to the stove. Bring a large pot of water to a boil seasoned with salt. (I usually add 1 tablespoon kosher salt per 2 quarts of water)

Once boiling, add the kale and basil to the pot for only 10 seconds. Use the tongs to lift the kale and basil out of the water and let cool on a baking sheet. If it looks like an excessive amount of water remains on the greens, feel free to press them with a paper towel.

Use this same pot of water to cook your pasta.

Blanched kale and basil piled on a baking sheet.

2 Make the pesto: Add the blanched kale and basil to a blender or food processor with garlic, walnuts, 1/3 cup water, olive oil, and salt. Blend until pureed into a paste. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. If the pesto needs more liquid, add water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, until it reaches your desired consistency.

Top view of a spoon with kale pesto on it. The spoon is above a blender jar with more pesto inside.

2 Boil the pasta: Add rotini pasta to the water you used to blanch the vegetables. Cook until al dente according to package. Reserve 1 cup pasta water and drain the pasta.

Return the pasta to the pot and add all the pesto. Stir to combine. If the pesto seems really dry, add reserved pasta water a little at a time. Stir between each addition until it coats the pasta well.

Steaming cooked rotini pasta draining in a colander. Large stockpot of weeknight rotini and kale pesto being stirred together with a wooden spoon.

3 Serve: Serve pesto rotini with grated parmesan cheese on top.

4 For the Lemon Pepper Chicken: Season the chicken cutlets liberally with lemon pepper and salt.

In a medium skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and cook cutlets for 5 to 6 minutes per side until they reach an internal temperature of 165˚F. After they come out of the skillet, let them rest briefly and then slice and serve on top of the rotini.

LEFTOVERS!

Leftovers keep in the fridge for 2 to 3 days. Reheat gently in a pot with a splash of water over low heat or in the microwave.

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Nick Evans

Nick has been writing delicious recipes for the home cook for almost a decade. He lives in Denver, CO and embraces a delicate balance of diaper changing, trail running and beer drinking. His website is Macheesmo and his first book is Love Your Leftovers.

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One Comment

No ImageRotini with Kale and Walnut Pesto

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Lija

    You made this recipe fun with your descriptions. It was a very entertaining read, and I plan on making this tomorrow. I already have some carrot-top pesto made that I will use.

Horizontal view of a white bowl with rotini and kale pesto inside. Walnuts and basil are in the background.Rotini with Kale and Walnut Pesto