kale + basil pesto with toasted pine nuts and fusilli (gf + v)

May 31, 2021

kale and basil pesto with toasted pine nuts and fusilli (gf + v)

serves 2

I remember the first time I had pesto. It was a warm summer evening in Toronto’s Little Italy; we were at Vivoli, sitting street-side on the patio. I’d never tasted anything like it. The shockingly green sauce, laced with parmesan and pine nuts, was vibrant and rustic. Classic basil pesto, aka Pesto alla Genovese, is one of the first Italian things I learned to make, not only because I loved it, but also because it’s pretty simple.

This recipe is a twist on the classic. I was inspired by Joshua McFadden’s “Kale Sauce” in his wonderful book Six Seasons and my attempts to make pesto a little easier to digest by slightly cooking the ingredients. Kale pesto straight up, with no other green, is too grassy for me. This version uses both basil and kale, but calls for toasting the nuts and blanching the greens. Blanching mellows the intensity of the kale, a veg full of vitamins and minerals, while keeping the gorgeous green colour of the leaves. There’s no parmesan to keep the pesto dairy-free, however, thanks to the lemon juice and toasted nuts, you have enough brightness and warmth that I don’t think you’ll miss it. If you do want parmesan, you can grate some overtop before serving.

It’s served here with brown rice fusilli, but use any other pasta that the sauce can hug itself around. This recipe makes double what’s needed, so I keep the other half in the fridge or freezer and use it to drizzle on a hundred different things. It can bring any boring meal to life! And if straight-up carbs aren’t you’re thing, you can sauté or roast some veg or protein with olive oil and garlic, tossing it into the pasta before adding the pesto.


1 small bunch lacinato kale,ribs removed (6 leaves)
1 cup basil (packed!)
¼ cup pine nuts + 2 tbsp (for topping)
1 garlic clove (2 if you love garlic)
¼ tsp fresh ground pepper
½ tsp (plus more to taste) kosher salt
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 ½ tsp lemon juice
250g (1/2 a bag) of fusilli, or any pasta shape with grooves


Step 1: Bring a large pot of water to boil and season with salt. Meanwhile, in a small pan on medium-low heat, toast all the pine nuts till they turn a golden caramel colour. Shimmy the pan to evenly distribute the heat and watch them carefully to avoid burning – this will take about 3-5 minutes.

Step 2: When the water boils add the kale leaves and blanch for two minutes. Take them out with tongs (it’s okay if there is water clinging to the leaves) and place in the blender. Then add the basil to the water and blanch for about 30 seconds. Remove and place in the blender as well. Set aside.

Step 3: Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook according to package instructions.

Step 4: Reserve 2 tbsp of the pine nuts and add the remaining to the blender along with the garlic, kosher salt, ground pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, and 2 tbsp pasta water. Blend for about a minute, till all the ingredients are smooth and incorporated. It should look bright green, vibrant, and saucy. Taste and see if you’d like more salt, pepper, etc.

Step 5: When the pasta is al dente, drain well, reserving ¼ cup of pasta water. Put pasta back into the pot and slowly add the pesto, tossing as you do till the pasta is well coated – you will use about half the pesto. Add a tbsp of pasta water or two to loosen the pasta up if you feel the sauce is too thick. Serve with pine nuts sprinkled on top and a few scattered basil leaves.


Store the remaining pesto in the fridge or freezer. It will last in the fridge for a couple of days – just drizzle a thin layer of olive oil on top to protect it from browning. In the freezer it will last for several months.

Leave a comment or question, or just say hi below! I’d love to hear from you. Also, you can share the recipe by using any of the little social buttons: facebook, instagram, twitter, or pinterest – whatever’s your jam. 🙂

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