Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto

KalePasta and NoodlesPesto

This Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto is a quick and easy meatless dinner! Make your pesto with cashews for extra creaminess. Blanching the kale also helps keep the pesto green.

Photography Credit: Sally Vargas

Kale, oh kale. The craze for kale has not abated, and I, for one, am glad about it. If the general public can embrace kale, who knows what culinary boundaries we can cross together in the future?

Kale has long been a popular vegetable in New England since it can be grown all year round in both the field and cold frames. Luckily, its popularity has really gained traction everywhere lately, giving us plenty of new ways to enjoy it – like this pesto pasta!

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Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale PestoOnce basil fades like a summer memory, kale steps into the spotlight for its turn on center stage. Pesto, after all, just means sauce — it does not have to be made with basil.

Elise already has a terrific recipe for kale pesto on this site, so I decided to come up with a slightly different variation to add to your repertoire.

In this version, I use lacinato kale (also called dino or Tuscan kale) and blanch it to tame its bitterness and to bring out the sweetness that lingers under the surface. Blanching also helps the kale retain its bright green color.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale PestoFor extra creaminess, I used cashews instead of traditional pine nuts or almonds. They are sweet and buttery, and add richness to the pesto. Vegans could forgo the cheese and still end up with a delicious pesto to toss with pasta. If you have any pesto leftover, toss with potatoes, fill an omelet, or spread on a sandwich.

I love how the earthy flavors of the kale pesto combine with whole wheat pasta. Once upon a time, whole wheat pasta tasted a lot like cardboard, but no more! Spaghetti, fettucine, bucatini and other forms of whole wheat, or whole grain, pasta would all work beautifully here.

Pesto doesn’t have to be a distant summer memory — revive it with kale, a green that has real staying power!


Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 4 to 6


For the pesto:

  • 1 bunch lacinato kale (about 12 ounces), stems removed and leaves torn into large pieces
  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or Romano
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • Water, as needed, to thin the pesto

For the pasta:

  • 1 pound whole wheat linguine, spaghetti, or bucatini.
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice, or to taste
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into 1-inch pieces


1 Blanch the kale: Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a large bowl of ice water.

Add the kale to the boiling water and stir for 15 seconds, or until wilted and deep green. With a slotted spoon, transfer it to the bowl of ice water. (Alternatively, transfer to a colander and run it under cold water.) Reserve the cooking water in the pot.

Squeeze the kale with your hands to remove excess water.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto

2 Make the pesto: In a food processor, pulse the cashews and garlic a few times until finely chopped. Add the kale and Parmesan, and pulse until they are also finely chopped. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary.

With the motor running, pour in the olive oil. Add the salt and pepper. If needed, add water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to bring the pesto to the desired thickness. Taste the pesto and add additional salt and pepper if needed.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto

3 Cook the pasta: Return the pot of water used to blanch the kale to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, until al dente. (Check the package for recommended cooking time.)

Scoop out and set aside 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta in a colander.

4 Toss the pasta: Return the pasta to the empty cooking pot and toss with the lemon juice. Add 1 cup or more pesto, to taste, and toss again. If the pesto seems dry, add a little of the pasta cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the sauce coats the pasta. Stir in the mozzarella pieces and serve.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto Whole Wheat Pasta with Kale Pesto

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Sally Vargas

Sally Pasley Vargas is a freelance writer and the author of three cookbooks (Food for Friends, The Tao of Cooking, Ten Speed Press, and The Cranberry Cookbook). She currently writes the column The Confident Cook for The Boston Globe along with seasonal recipes for the Wednesday Food Section.

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2 Comments / Reviews

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  1. Karen

    Am wondering whether almonds would work, as I have them on hand. Also pine nuts.

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