Kale Pesto for Quick Summer Meals

There is something to be said for having a few substantial dishes at the ready on hot summer days. Especially in my apartment where, as much as I love to cook, the kitchen sometimes gets so hot that it's completely unbearable to do anything more than assemble a quick salad or grab a bottle of cold wine from the fridge.

One of my recent discoveries in the world of quick summer meals has been kale pesto. Similar in process and appearance to the more traditional kind, this version replaces basil with raw kale.  I've mentioned before that I'm always looking for ways to add a little more kale to my diet. I tuck big frilly pieces of it in sandwiches and burgers, and dehydrate them for a quick snack, but I think this latest use might just be my new favorite!

Eaten raw, kale has lovely bittersweet flavor that works beautifully in combination with the garlic, cheese, and fruity olive oil. If you're fond of bitter greens and vegetables like escarole, dandelion greens, endive, or broccoli rabe, you'll probably appreciate this.

The final pesto is gorgeous, bright emerald green with lots of powerful flavor that you can then adapt to a number of recipes. Toss with cooked pasta, use as a spread on sandwiches or burgers, dollop on top of a soup as a garnish, or whisk into a vinaigrette for a quick salad dressing. For lunch today I made a quick chickpea salad, thinning the pesto with a little vinegar and coating the chickpeas with the sauce. After an hour of chilling in the fridge, it was perfect. (I'm actually sitting here eating spoonfuls of it right from the serving bowl as I write this post.) If you're caught entertaining last-minute guests, the pesto works great as a topping for crostini or pita chips.

Traditionally, kale is made with pine nuts, but I usually add whatever nuts I happen to have on hand. The idea is to add a little bit of crunch and natural sweetness, plus some protein and healthy fats. Almonds are actually my favorite and they're the ones I recommend below (around here they're also cheaper than pine nuts, which is an added bonus). You could also substitute walnuts, pistachios, hazelnuts, or really just about any nut you like. 

The pesto becomes even easier when you plan ahead!

On Saturday I made a large batch of kale pesto and portioned it out into muffin tins that I'd swiped with a little bit of olive. I popped the muffin tray into the freezer and let it solidify for about an hour. When it was ready, I used a butter knife to loosen each little pesto "muffin" and then put them all into a large zipped freezer bag.

Now whenever I want a quick meal, all I have to do is grab one of the little pesto muffins [yeah, I'm just going to keep calling them that] and defrost it. I've found that 1 minute on the defrost setting in the microwave is all I need to get it back to room temperature. If you don't have, or prefer not to use, a microwave, you can also just leave it on the counter for 20 minutes or so. Or if you're working with a hot dish, like cooked pasta or some kind of meat, just add it right in; the heat of the food will be enough to warm it up.

The batch below made enough to fill 8 standard size muffin tins. You can, of course, adjust the recipe according to your tastes by adding more or less nuts, skipping the cheese, more kale, adding red pepper flakes, etc. There is so much that you can do!

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Kale Pesto

Print this Recipe
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1/2 cup chopped almonds (can also use pine nuts or walnuts)
3 large cloves garlic, peeled with ends trimmed off
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 pound raw kale, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Combine the kosher salt, almonds, garlic cloves, and Parmigiano-Reggiano in the base of a food processor. Pulse repeatedly until all ingredients are coarsely chopped.

Add the kale, olive oil, and lemon juice and pulse again until it reaches a fine grind, but not quite a puree. If necessary, add a bit more olive oil to loosen it up.

Turn out into a bowl and stir a few times to loosen up. Season with freshly ground black pepper. Can be used right away or frozen.

To freeze, simply portion into 1/4 to 1/2 amounts and pack into the wells of a muffin tin (can also use an ice cube tray for smaller portions). Let freeze for one hour before removing and storing in a large freezer-safe zipped plastic bag or container. Will will keep well for at least 6 months.

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