Kale, Walnut and Meyer Lemon Pesto

Savory Recipes, Winter • 3 Jan 2013

January is a cold, brittle and senseless month. The howling, angry wind whips around, dancing a menacing waltz, taunting bystanders with macabre icy fingers. Pushing my front door against the wind’s formidable arms, I am left chilled and helpless, prostrated, with a feeling of intractable and enduring avarice.

To build our strength in the steadfastly bitter, bleak months, we need nourishment; comfort food that helps us wiggle free from the winter’s binding forces. I don’t crave heavy sauces, thick and creamy. I want bright dishes that utilizes the season’s ingredients but pay tribute to summer’s luminous exuberance.

For the New Year, I made a healthful, winter version of pesto, a dish I usually reserve for the warmer months when basil is plentiful. The sauce is a richly deep evergreen, made from thick, hearty kale. Incandescent Meyer lemons rouse the pesto, the yellow-toned flesh adding a sun-kissed vibrancy. Toasted walnuts and creamy parmesan lend an apropos earthiness, also serving as a reminder of the terra ferma below the crackling, frozen ground.

The flavors and textures of kale pesto meld into a bright, herbaceous sauce with pungent, grassy notes. Every bite of silky, bespeckled pasta makes me thankful for lovely winter produce and fills my heart with hope for a warmer, brighter season.

Kale, Walnut and Meyer Lemon Pesto

1 bunch kale, thick stems removed and coarsely chopped
1/3 cup walnuts
1 large garlic clove, finely minced into a paste (2 teaspoons)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, plus extra for serving
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lemon zest from 1 Meyer lemon, or about 2 teaspoons
1 1/2 teaspoons Meyer lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1 pound pasta

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a baking sheet, toast the walnuts until they are lightly golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from baking sheet and let cool.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the kale and blanch until bright green, about 1-2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the kale to a colander. Reserve the cooking water. Cool slightly and squeeze out remaining water from kale.

3. Add kale, walnuts, garlic, cheese, salt, pepper, lemon juice and lemon zest to a food processor. Pulse until smooth, scraping down the sides with a spatula. While the food processor is running, drizzle in the olive oil and process until smooth.

4. Return the reserved cooking water to a boil and cook pasta according to package directions, until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot and add the pesto and a bit of the water, adding additional until the desired consistency is achieved.

5. Serve pasta sprinkled with additional cheese.

Yield: 1 cup pesto, serves 4-6.

6 Responses

  1. Jackie

    Whoa, this sounds delicious!  My husband isn't big on basil so I think this pesto will go over well.

  2. Mom

    I have been craving greens lately.  Perhaps it is all that rich food served at holiday parties, but I think your explanation in the first two paragraphs of this blog explains it all.  I love kale and am always looking for new ways to make it. It definitely is going to be the recipe I use next when cooking kale.
    Kate can you substitute Meyer lemons with regualar lemons? I believe Meyer are less tart, am I correct?

  3. You can use regular lemons! Just add juice to taste. I would start with a teaspoon. You could always add more if you like more sourness. It is a personal preference.

  4. Dora

    Federico made this for dinner for some friends last night, everyone LOVED loved loved it! Great recipe, Kate…Keep them coming! (Beautiful pics too…)

  5. Love the idea of using kale for pesto. Can you freeze any leftover pesto (not the pasta, of course, just the sauce)?

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