I love kale. And lucky for me, it’s a vegetable that enjoys Maine’s soil and seasons. Unfortunately, it seems that many of my fellow farmers’ market go-ers also love kale and other greens, because there’s been an absolute dearth in recent weeks – even months. So I’ve broken down (many times…) and bought kale from the grocery store, but at least it’s organic (important because kale is on the infamous dirty dozen list), it’s from a Massachusetts company (Olivia’s Organics), and it’s grown in the US. I’ll save why I eat local for another post…
Anywhos, at the same local grocery store chain where I’ve been buying my kale recently, they have a bi-monthly magazine (free with purchases over $25 – whee!) that often has some good articles and recipes. One of the recipes that caught my eye in the most recent January/February issue was one for kale pesto. As I read the recipe I checked off the required ingredients in my head – basil (from a local farm), garlic (also local!), pine nuts (leftover from who knows what), a block of parmesan cheese, and my beloved kale. I was missing a few things that I would have liked to have (including a fresh lemon, but I did have lemon juice, which would have to do, and the recipe also called for some mint), but I was feeling especially pesto-y the other night, so I threw lemons to the wind (well, if I had one, or two, but even if I did I probably wouldn’t have thrown it/them but rather used them in my pesto… whatever.)
I also threw in some market-fresh sweet potatoes and some chickpeas. While we’re on the topic of chickpeas (because I’m writing this and so I get to decide that we indeed are now on that topic), I must share a sad and cautionary tale. The whole reason I decided to include my friends the silly garbanzo beans in this pasta dish, was because I had some in my fridge waiting to be used (I always soak and cook a whole bunch so I can have them on hand), and I thought they would balance out the sweetness of the potatoes and the garlicky-ness of the pesto nicely. But when it came their time to shine, as the dish was coming together, I found that they had gone bad (sheesh, I guess I had cooked them WAY ahead of time…). At that point, I had to make a decision: cut the chickpeas out of the line-up, or turn to the 1 can I keep * just in case * in the pantry. Because I had already committed to fantasizing about the heartiness the beans would add to the meal, I hurriedly drained and rinsed the canned ones and threw them in.
I find that canned beans (although I’ve had better success with black beans and the like than with delicate garbanzo beans) just don’t cut it now that I soak and cook dried beans 9 times out of 10. The chickpeas I used in this pasta reminded me why I used to not like them at all – too soft, kind of… meaty, and a weird canned flavor, even though I rinsed them.
So I hope that you take these 2 lessons from my misfortunes: go for the dried beans, and for legumes’ sake, don’t let them go bad before you use them all.
Wow, that chickpea story kind of dominated this post about kale pesto… let’s get back to that.
Kale pesto and sweet potato pasta
You can find the original recipe that inspired me here. I just happened to have sweet potatoes from my local farmers’ market on hand, but winter squash would also work nicely, or in spring or summer, asparagus, peas, summer squash… so many veggies play nice with pesto! I’ve separated the pesto ingredients out here, because it’s not only good for pasta. :)
3 cups kale, chopped, stems removed (I used baby kale, so no stem removal necessary)
1/3 cup fresh basil
3 TBS olive oil, divided
3 cloves garlic
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted, divided (1/4 cup for pesto, the rest for garnish/sauce)
about 1 TBS lemon juice (I would have added some zest as well, but I didn’t have a lemon TO zest…)
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Freshly ground salt and pepper, to taste
16 oz pasta (I used penne)
2 medium sweet potatoes (or 1 big one!), peeled and cubed
2 TBS olive oil
2 TBS flour
1 cup milk (I used unsweetened almond)
1 cup kale, finely chopped, stems removed
1/4 cup parm
1-2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1 can, drained and rinsed)
1 TBS lemon juice before serving
salt and pepper to taste
garnish options: basil, pine nuts, grated parmesan
For pesto, blend all ingredients together with whatever blending instrument you favor, or have on hand (I use my immersion blender… very awkwardly – I want a food processor badly!). Ta-da!
To assemble the pasta dish, boil water in a large pot for the pasta, then cook according to package instructions. At the same time (or ahead of time, if you want to use the same pot), boil your sweet potatoes – throw them in a large pot with enough water to cover them, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat a little to avoid boiling over, cover, and cook for 10-15-ish minutes, or until tender (sorry for the lame time estimation… I never pay attention to the clock, I just keep testing them!). When sweet potatoes are cooked and drained, heat oil at medium-high in a deep pan, then add flour. Whisk together to form a bubbly paste, then add milk slowly and whisk to avoid clumping. Stir in kale and let wilt for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Add cheese, pesto, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas. Toss in your cooked and drained pasta, drizzle with lemon juice, and season to taste.
Serves 8-10 (can also be halved, and it held up pretty well frozen)