Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Kale Walnut Pesto

In the not too distant future, it's going to be time to completely clean out my vegetable and herb gardens. My kale plants have continued to produce generously throughout the summer, and despite a voracious appetite for kale chips, my overzealous planting left me with an abundance of kale to use up. I've made many pestos with my herb garden plenitude and other greens, but this is my first foray into one made with hearty winter greens, and while it has a character all its own, it certainly doesn't disappoint. Kale doesn't have as assertive a flavor as basil, but its earthiness is a wonderful foil for salty, savory Parmesan and rich, toasty walnuts. Traditional pesto doesn't contain any citrus, but the subtle addition of lemon really brightens the sauce and brings out more in all of the other ingredients.

I froze this pesto in 1/4 cup portions, enough  to lightly sauce one serving of pasta, so there's no excuse not to prepare a homemade meal for dinner. To use with pasta, cook pasta to just shy of al dente and drain, reserving about 1/4 cup pasta water per serving. Return the pasta to the pan, add the (thawed) pesto to the warm noodles and toss to coat, adding  pasta water a tablespoon at a time until sauce achieves desired consistency. Add a little more freshly grated Parmesan, if desired, and serve promptly.

This pesto has many uses beyond a pasta sauce, delicious on a sandwich (especially grilled cheese), as a dressing for potato salad, or with eggs. If this particular combination of greens, nuts, and cheese isn't to your liking feel, this is still a great template for experimentation. Arugula, pecans, and Pecorino Romano? Spinach, almonds, and Asiago? No matter what greens, nuts, and cheese you choose, this recipe is a culinary road map to, quite literally, awesome sauce.

Kale Walnut Pesto
makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups, enough for 6-8 servings of pasta
adapted from The Kitchn

1/2 cup chopped walnuts
8 ounces kale, trimmed, rinsed and chopped
1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and roast them in the oven until they are golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Have a large bowl of cold water ready. Drop the chopped kale into the boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, swirl the kale around a few times until it becomes limp.

3. Drain the kale and plunge it into the cold water. Drain again, then place the kale on a clean dishtowel and blot away the moisture.

4. Place the nuts, kale, Parmesan, olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a blender and puree until uniformly smooth. You may need to add more olive oil to reach desired consistency.

5. To refrigerate, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto. Will stay fresh for up to 3 days. To freeze, place desired portions in small containers with plastic directly on the surface of the pesto, or place in plastic freezer bags, and freeze for up to two months.

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