Bucatini Verde with Tuscan Kale Pesto and Walnuts
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Often, pasta is seen as an indulgence. But if you pack a ton of green vegetables into your bowl, we say it’s as nutritious as it is delicious. This recipe for bucatini verde with Tuscan kale pesto and walnuts, from Listen to Your Vegetables by Sarah Grueneberg and Kate Heddings, is just one example.
“I am obsessed with this green pesto and not just because it tastes crazy good,” Grueneburg writes. “I love that it includes healthy kale and olive oil, as well as an irresistible crunch from (also healthy) walnuts! I serve the pasta hot most of the time, but it’s also incredible served cold as a pasta salad.”
Thankfully, you won’t need a traditional mortar and pestle to make this pesto, and the authors have a few tricks up their sleeves for making it in a blender. Soaking the greens in ice water plumps them up for a super-creamy sauce, while freezing the olive oil minimizes the unpleasant effects heat can have as your blender whirs it into an emulsified mixture. Pretty ingenious, right?
From Listen to Your Vegetables by Sarah Grueneberg and Kate Heddings. Copyright © 2022 by Green Mountain Collection, LLC. Reprinted by permission of Harvest, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
½ cup plus 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 bunches Tuscan kale, stemmed, leaves torn into 2-inch pieces
1 cup tightly packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup walnut pieces
2 garlic cloves
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon, plus extra for garnish
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus more for garnish
2 pinches crushed red pepper flakes
1 pound dry bucatini, spaghetti or other strand pasta
Good extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1. Place ½ cup of the olive oil in the freezer until chilled, at least 15 minutes. Fill a large bowl with ice water and add 2 packed cups of the torn kale along with the basil and parsley. Soak for 10 to 15 minutes. Reserve the remaining kale leaves.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil and the walnuts over medium heat, tossing to coat the walnuts. Cook, tossing or stirring often, so the walnuts toast slowly and evenly, 5 to 6 minutes. The walnuts should deepen in color and become fragrant. Remove from the heat and cool. If the nut pieces are big, coarsely chop them.
3. In a blender or food processor, combine the chilled olive oil with the garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Using your hands, lift half of the greens from the ice water and gently shake. Place in the blender. Using a spoon or spatula, gently push the greens down into the oil. At high speed, blend until smooth. Add the remaining chilled greens, pushing them down and blending until smooth. Transfer the kale pesto to a bowl; set that bowl in the ice bath. Carefully stir in the lemon zest and juice along with ½ cup of the walnuts, the pecorino cheese and the red pepper flakes.
4. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, following the package directions. Add the remaining kale to the pot with the pasta during the last 2 minutes of cooking. Before draining, reserve ½ cup of the pasta water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Off the heat, toss the pasta with the kale pesto, drizzling in the reserved pasta cooking water to create a creamy sauce. (I like to toss this pasta off the heat because we are conducting a lightning-fast—Vegas style!—pasta marriage ceremony.) Transfer the pasta to plates, top with the remaining walnuts, sprinkle with grated pecorino and drizzle with a super-special olive oil.
To freeze the pesto, transfer it to an airtight container and place a small piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pesto, sealing it from the air in the top of the container. The pesto freezes beautifully for 1 to 2 months.
All too often, pesto made in a blender or food processor results in a watery, chunky, oily concoction with dark, bruised herbs, as opposed to the beautifully emulsified sauce it is meant to be. Here are a few tips to help you make it great:
- Heat is the number one enemy when making pesto. By chilling down your olive oil, you minimize the effects of the heat and friction from the blender. Keeping things cold preserves those precious herbs, locking in the freshest taste with no bitterness.
- Soaking the herbs in ice water helps them absorb some water and plumps them up, which helps create a creamy, cohesive pesto texture. Hydrating and chilling the leaves also prevents the herbs from bruising and discoloring during the pesto-making process.
- Layering is key. Instead of starting by blending the herbs dry—and beating them to death to get them chopped!—I first blend the chilled olive oil and garlic. Then, when the herbs go in, there is some liquid to help get those blades turning.