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Spaghetti with Kale & Walnut Pesto

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Spaghetti with Kale and Walnut Pesto

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A winter-friendly twist on pesto pasta, this spaghetti with kale and walnut pesto is a quick weeknight dinner and a delicious way to sneak in some healthy greens.

Spaghetti with Kale & Walnut Pesto

Photo by Alexandra Grablewski (Chronicle Books, 2018)

From my cookbook, this winter-friendly twist on pesto pasta is one of my go-to weeknight dinner recipes. I can get it on the table in 25 minutes max, and it’s a great way to sneak in some healthy greens (green-phobic kids: you know who you are!).

Note that you’ll need some of the cooking water from the pasta for the sauce, so be sure to reserve some before you drain the pasta. It’s easy to forget when you’re multitasking, so I always place a liquid measuring cup right next to the colander as a visual reminder. Also, the kale and walnut pesto freezes beautifully so do yourself a favor and make a double batch.

What you’ll need for spaghetti with kale and walnut pesto

Spaghetti ingredients including olive oil, kale, and garlic.

How to make spaghetti with kale and walnut pesto

Begin by toasting the walnuts in a 350°F-oven until lightly toasted and fragrant, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.

how to make saladBring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and boil until al dente, about 10 minutes, or according to package instructions.
Tongs grabbing noodles from a pot.Meanwhile, make the pesto: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine the kale and basil.

Kale and basil in a food processor.

Process until finely chopped.

Chopped kale and basil in a food processor.

Add the remaining ingredients.

Walnuts, garlic, and other ingredients in a food processor with chopped greens.

Pulse until smooth and set aside.

Kale and Walnut Pesto in a food processor.

Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the spaghetti in a colander. Add the spaghetti back to the pot and toss with the pesto and ½ cup of the cooking water. If the pasta seems dry, add more of the water.

Tongs tossing Spaghetti with Kale and Walnut Pesto.

Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary, then serve topped with the grated pecorino Romano and chopped walnuts.

Video Tutorial

How to Freeze Kale and Walnut Pesto

The pesto can be frozen for up to 3 months. Store in a tightly sealed jar or airtight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil (the oil seals out the air and prevents the pesto from oxidizing, which would turn it an unappetizing brown color).

Spaghetti with Kale & Walnut Pesto

Photo by Alexandra Grablewski (Chronicle Books, 2018)

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Spaghetti with Kale & Walnut Pesto

A winter-friendly twist on pesto pasta, this spaghetti with kale and walnut pesto is a quick weeknight dinner and a delicious way to sneak in some healthy greens.

Servings: 4
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cook Time: 15 Minutes
Total Time: 25 Minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 pound spaghetti
  • 2 cups packed, torn kale leaves, stems removed
  • 1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for boiling the pasta
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ⅓ cup walnuts, toasted if desired (see note)
  • 2 medium cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese

For Serving

  • ⅓ cup grated pecorino Romano cheese
  • ½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted if desired

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and boil until al dente, about 10 minutes, or according to package instructions.
  2. Meanwhile, make the pesto: In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, combine the kale and basil; process until finely chopped. Add the remaining ingredients and pulse until smooth.
  3. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water, then drain the spaghetti in a colander. Add the spaghetti back to the pot and toss with the pesto and ½ cup of the cooking water. If the pasta seems dry, add more of the water. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary, then serve topped with the grated pecorino Romano and chopped walnuts.
  4. Note: Toasting the walnuts isn't essential, but it brings out their flavor and makes them crunchier. To toast them, preheat the oven to 350°F. Arrange the walnuts on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake, checking frequently, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 6 to 10 minutes. Transfer immediately to a plate to cool.
  5. Make-Ahead/Freezer-Friendly Instructions: The pesto will keep in the refrigerator for about a week or can be frozen for up to 3 months. Store in a tightly sealed jar or airtight plastic container, covered with a thin layer of olive oil (the oil seals out the air and prevents the pesto from oxidizing, which would turn it an unappetizing brown color).

Nutrition Information

Powered by Edamam

  • Per serving (4 servings)
  • Calories: 888
  • Fat: 47 g
  • Saturated fat: 10 g
  • Carbohydrates: 90 g
  • Sugar: 4 g
  • Fiber: 5 g
  • Protein: 27 g
  • Sodium: 405 mg
  • Cholesterol: 29 mg

This website is written and produced for informational purposes only. I am not a certified nutritionist and the nutritional data on this site has not been evaluated or approved by a nutritionist or the Food and Drug Administration. Nutritional information is offered as a courtesy and should not be construed as a guarantee. The data is calculated through an online nutritional calculator, Edamam.com. Although I do my best to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures should be considered estimates only. Varying factors such as product types or brands purchased, natural fluctuations in fresh produce, and the way ingredients are processed change the effective nutritional information in any given recipe. Furthermore, different online calculators provide different results depending on their own nutrition fact sources and algorithms. To obtain the most accurate nutritional information in a given recipe, you should calculate the nutritional information with the actual ingredients used in your recipe, using your preferred nutrition calculator.

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Comments

  • Could I make this recipe with another type of pasta besides spaghetti? Any recommendations for other types of pasta options that would be easier for young kids to eat rather than spaghetti noodles? Thanks!

    • — Heather on May 8, 2024
    • Reply
    • Hi Heather, this will work nicely with any pasta. 😊

      • — Jenn on May 8, 2024
      • Reply
  • I made this for dinner tonight and it was fantastic! One of the most honest, straightforward dishes my family and I have had in a long time.

    • — Allison on January 4, 2024
    • Reply
  • This is excellent and very tasty! I used lachinato (dinosaur) kale and blanched it for a few minutes, then squeezed it dry and let it cool. Because I had neither basil nor walnuts at hand, I substituted some chopped lovage from my freezer and toasted tamari almonds. This worked really well, but I think walnuts will be even better. Also, a good pecorino elevates this dish – don’t skimp!

    • — usi in Ottawa on December 11, 2023
    • Reply
  • Do you think pepitas or sunflower seeds would work in place of the walnuts? This sounds lovely, but we have a nut allergy.
    Thanks!

    • — Erin on December 10, 2023
    • Reply
    • Hi Erin, I haven’t tried it, so I can’t say for sure, but I think you can get away with it. I’d love to hear how it turns out if you try it!

      • — Jenn on December 11, 2023
      • Reply
  • Delicious! Toasted walnuts were a great finishing touch. This is a great weekday meal. I paired it with parmesan crusted chicken cutletsn with a butter lemon sauce.

    • — Sandra Drechsler on November 5, 2023
    • Reply
  • absolutely delish. DH liked it better than traditional pesto, and I agree.

    • — Heather on September 25, 2023
    • Reply
  • This was absolutely fantastic. I loved being able to use my garden basil and kale. I made it vegan by using non-dairy parmesan. And used whole wheat spaghetti. Thank you!

    • — CHICHI on September 9, 2023
    • Reply
  • I made this last night and loved it. Added more walnuts than recommended and added lemon zest, fresh squeezed juice and red pepper to the pasta. Yum thank you

    • — Betsy O'Brien on May 25, 2023
    • Reply
  • Another hit from Jen! I made this last night for my skeptical family. I was looking for a meatless option but decided to grill some chicken tenders just in case my people felt deprived. This pasta however was the star of the show! I toasted the walnuts as you suggested and added the sprinkle on top along with the pecorino. This may be one of our new favorites, absolutely delicious!!

    • — Holly on May 16, 2023
    • Reply
  • How do you think zucchini noodles would be in place of spaghetti noodles in this recipe?

    • — Susie Maguire on January 24, 2023
    • Reply
    • Sure – the texture will obviously be different, but it will work. Enjoy!

      • — Jenn on January 24, 2023
      • Reply
  • So delicious and easy will make again. I’m glad it freezes too (my son grew a lot of kale that needs cooking). Thank you Jenn 😊

    • — Joanne Gow on October 10, 2022
    • Reply
  • Easy and delicious – the perfect combo! Even my meat lovers enjoyed it!

  • I absolutely love this recipe! The flavours are bright an work so well together, the ingredients are satisfying and nutritious – no need to add meat for protein…. A real success. Thanks so much Jennifer @onceuponachef

    • — Sheila Southon
    • Reply
  • This has become our go to pesto recipe! We top with some shredded chicken and roasted veggies (squash, bell peppers, and onions) for a more hearty meal. Thanks Jenn!

  • Hi Jenn. My husband loves Pesto as a sauce with his chicken and vegetables. So, if I’m not making any pasta, should I add any hot salty water to the sauce or just leave the water out? Thanks for another neat and great recipe idea.

    • Yep, I would just leave the water out. 🙂

  • Hello. Im not a big fan of pesto however, got Pecans , Swiss chard from garden, so Ill try it with this twist will let ya know. Live And cook live and learn. Thank you for the inspiration and as always ,,” Good Appetite “

  • Delicious summer recipe. I used spinach instead of kale and pine nuts instead of walnut (that’s what I had available). Will definitely do it again.

  • This is easy to make, and delicious gem to add to the rotation ANY time of year!! I added slightly more than 1/2c of the pasta water, and then decided another 1/4c sugar was in order. The flavors are delicious, and the kale doesn’t overpower at all, in fact it tames the overpowering flavor of the basil that a traditional basil pesto has. Toasting the walnuts adds depth that makes it worth the (minimal) effort!! The 1/4t is just enough to tame any bitterness from the kale, but it’s imperceptible in the end result, which I consider a plus. Simply delicious!!

    • I thought I had reviewed this recipe before, and see that I did, and made quite the error. I did NOT add an additional 1/4CUP sugar!!!! …. must have added another 1/4t. sugar 2 years ago. I made this last night, and did not add any additional ingredients so perhaps it’s dependent on the particular bunch of kale? In any event, this recipe is delicious, and the pesto is perfectly balanced! Really filling and flavorful with out being heavy. I sliced some tomatoes, and drizzled them with EVOO and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkled a little basil on top and we enjoyed this very much on another
      June evening!

      • — Mary M. on June 13, 2023
      • Reply
  • Hi Jenn
    Is it possible to use frozen kale in this recipe?

    Thank you
    Liz

    • Hi Liz, I think frozen kale would work here; just make sure you thaw it and thoroughly squeeze out any excess water. Please LMK how it turns out!

  • Once again a fabulous recipe from Jenn. I always try to get more leafy greens into my diet and this recipe did just that. I stored my leftover pesto in zip-loc bags.

  • I love finding ways to incorporate veggies into a meal without making it hit-you-over-the-head healthy and thus turning off my children;). This fits the bill! I have been a fan of pecorino romano cheese for years, the other hard Italian cheese, and it oftentimes gets overlooked in recipes. So happy to see it playing a prominent role in this one. It adds some real flavor, and the walnuts give some added crunch, texture and health benefits – win, win, win! When I have some pancetta on hand, I cube it, put it in a pan with a little pepper and garlic, fry it until it’s crispy and sprinkle it on top.

  • This is my first review, but I tried many recipes and I own your first book. It was my recent gift to myself. I made this last night, exactly as written, with just a little more basil as I love it. It was delicious and my son who does not like pasta, hard to believe, had some. Very quick but satisfying dinner. I undercooked spaghetti just a bit so they would not overcook at the end. Next time I may want to try it with pine nuts. Thanks for another great recipe.

  • I loooOOooove the texture of this. It’s a snap to make but somehow you feel really impressed with yourself, because it’s not marinara from a jar. Definitely opened my mind to the notion that so very many things can become pesto. And it’s delicious!! I always have to eat a few spoonfuls straight from the processor – as does the baby on my hip. Virtuous, addicting, and a kid pleaser. Win win win.

  • This was delicious. Very quick and easy to pull together. The fresh ingredients really add to its appeal.

    • — Sarah Bertrand
    • Reply
  • My kids love “green noodles” and this recipe was delicious. I’ve made it with walnuts and also with pine nuts, which worked well too. I added lemon juice at the end as well. Thank you! I’ve made many of your recipes and they are all wonderful!

  • I am soooo happy to have finally found a pesto recipe that I love. Previously, I have loved the idea of pesto more than I loved actual pesto…and I’m not sure why. Perhaps the inclusion of pine nuts in some recipes? I’m not sure. Anyway, I made this recipe recently and it was a huge hit with my whole family. My two-year-old actually asked for thirds! I also appreciate how quick and easy it was – perfect for a quick weeknight comfort food meal. The only thing I would change next time is that I would make extra toasted walnuts for snacking!

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