Basil, Walnut and Kale Pesto

This dish pretty much screams “Springtime!” With fresh basil and kale, nice ripe cherry tomatoes, and crisp asparagus, it’s basically spring in a bowl. And such a delicious refreshing change from tomato-based pasta sauces!

It’s also quite easy, and because I added kale and used walnuts instead of pine nuts, a lot cheaper than regular pesto as well. (I mentioned this in my pesto sandwich spread post, but jeepers, pine nuts are expensive! I’ve looked in two states now and they’re even more expensive in NY than they are in LA!)

I should mention two things about this “pesto” – I haven’t actually had pesto very many times so I’m not working with an excellent source of comparison, and I don’t really love basil. I like it OK, but I find it to be overpowering in many dishes. So you’d think maybe pesto wasn’t for me, and it’s possible that this doesn’t taste anything like regular pesto. But whatever this little mutant dish is, it’s really tasty – you can definitely taste the basil but it’s muted and there’s a great garlic kick to it. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s good, I guess (or read the ingredient list and figure out if you like all the stuff on it!)

It also comes together in less than the amount of time it takes to boil water and noodles, which is something I like in a pasta dish. You start with a big skillet and toss in some chopped onion, walnuts, kale, and basil and let them get nice and toasty for about 5 to 8 minutes, until the greens have wilted just a bit.

Remove all that stuff from the pan and pop it in the food processor. Put the pan back on the stove and add some 1-2 inch pieces of asparagus and a bunch of garlic and let that heat up until the asparagus is softened but still has a bit of a crisp to it.

While that is cooking, go back to the food processor that’s holding all your pesto-ey goodness and add a bit of water and some nutritional yeast if you want a cheesiness factor (but it’s not strictly necessary if you don’t keep nooch around, don’t go buy a big ol’ tub of it just for this). Blend it up until it’s nice and smooth – it can have a somewhat paste-like texture because you’ll be mixing it up with wet noodles to help it spread out.

Once you’ve blended up your sauce and cooked your asparagus, just slice a few cherry tomatoes in half (or a regular tomato into chunks) and toss it all together with your noodles. (Oh yeah, you should have been boiling noodles this whole time. Did I forget to mention that?) When you drain the boiled noodles, make sure to reserve about a cup of the boiling water – as you toss the noodles and pesto stuff together you can add it a little at a time to get it all smoothed out and coating the noodles.

And ta-da! You’ve got a bowl full of delicious and nutritious springtime goodness. Anyone have any favorite recipes that feel like spring to you? Or any favorite non-tomato based pasta sauces? I fall back on marinara a little more often than I’d like so I’m working on expanding my repertoire.

Basil, Walnut and Kale Pesto

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: One pound of pasta

Vegan, Gluten Free, Refined Sugar Free, Soy Free


  • 1 lb brown rice spiral noodles (make sure to use GF noodles if you're gluten free - I love the brown rice noodles available at Trader Joes and Whole Foods)
  • 10-12 cloves garlic, minced fine (since we're already going to get out the food processor to make the pesto, I recommend using it to chop the garlic to save yourself some time!)
  • 2 c. fresh basil
  • 2 c. fresh kale
  • 3/4 c. raw, unsalted walnuts
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2/3 c. water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
  • 1 bunch (about 10-12 stalks) asparagus, woody stalks removed and chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
  • 20-30 cherry tomatoes, halved (or 2 medium tomatoes chopped into 1/2 inch chunks)


  1. Start a large pot of water boiling, and cook your noodles according to the package directions. When you drain the noodles, reserve a cup or two of the water to add to the pasta.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large skillet over medium heat, add your onion, kale, basil, about 2/3 of the minced garlic, and walnuts and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and the greens are just starting to wilt. (If you want your onion cooked very thoroughly you may want to add it a couple minutes ahead of everything else)
  3. Once the greens and walnut mixture is ready, remove it from the pan and add it to a blender or food processor. Return the pan to the stove over medium heat and add asparagus and the rest of the garlic. Heat the asparagus for 3-6 minutes until it is softened but still somewhat crisp.
  4. While the asparagus cooks, add water, salt, and nutritional yeast to the food processor with the cooked greens and blend until smooth.
  5. Once your asparagus and pasta noodles are ready, combine all ingredients in a large bowl, adding the reserved pasta water to help the pesto coat the noodles. Serve warm or cold.


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