Kale Walnut Meyer Lemon Pesto with Brown Rice Penne

Kale Walnut Pesto on Brown Rice Penne Pasta- BoulderLocavore.com

When I began eating as a locavore it highlighted an eating pattern I’ve held my whole life.  I would select a recipe then go find the ingredients regardless of their seasonality or origin.  Eating seasonal, locally grown produce requires me to first procure the produce then figure out what to do with it!  That may sound like a ‘so what?’ point, but it demands much more thinking or it did for me unless I want to eat as I did in college (with zero panache).
Kale Walnut Meyer Lemon Pesto on Brown Rice Penne Pasta- BoulderLocavore.com

It took me awhile to adjust to an ingredient-driven culinary approach from a recipe-driven tactic but in the process I learned a lot.  I have a curious nature and my natural proclivity is to research like a fiend; I’m a self-professed “infomaniac”.  Part of that included stocking up on some key cookbooks that chronicle recipes by their primary ingredient or in my case vegetable or fruit.  My faves?  Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (I actually have all of his books but when eating seasonally this one is perfect), as well as Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors: Cooking and Eating from America’s Farmer’s Markets, Vegetarian Suppers from Deborah Madison’s Kitchen and Seasonal Fruit Desserts from Orchard, Farm and Market.

Kale Walnut Pesto (Curly Kale and Garlic Cloves) Boulderlocavore.com

What I’ve grown to love is the easy preparation and flavorful results of simple dishes from my CSA farm proceeds or my own home garden.  Pesto is a true favorite due to its versatility (suits my capricious tendencies) and the robustness of flavor.  Less than a handful of ingredients and 10 minutes time will yield this beautiful sauce perfect for topping pasta or pizza, saucing a meat or vegetarian dish, adding to a sandwich or tossing into a salad.  It is easily frozen for use in the cold weather months too.  I own a Foodsaver machine and at the end of summer make loads of sealed packets of one meal-worth of pesto to freeze and enjoy all winter long.

Though basil pesto is what is most recognized, pesto can be made with any greens.  Arugula pesto is one of my favorites.  Today I decided to make Kale Pesto using some kale that I rescued from a compost pile fate from a community garden being readied for new crops.  Transplanted into my garden it has thrived however with hotter temps afoot, it’s time to dine!

Kale Walnut Pesto on Brown Rice Penne Pasta- BoulderLocavore.com

Instead of pine nuts I’ve substituted walnuts (toasted) and added some Meyer Lemon Olive Oil to the regular olive oil.  I am gluten-free so brown rice pasta is a staple of my GF pasta regime and it has a lovely flavor and texture.  My husband is not gluten free and enjoys it also, feeling it demonstrates the best structure for non-gluten pastas (this coming from an excellent cook and gluten-filled pasta lover).

Kale Walnut Pesto on Brown Rice Penne Pasta- BoulderLocavore.com

Kale Walnut Meyer Lemon Pesto with Brown Rice Penne

Pesto generally has a strong flavor since it’s made with strongly flavored greens. This version is no exception. The color is completely vibrant to match the flavor. I have enjoyed it warm on pasta as well as tossed into a cold pasta salad. There is no Parmesan cheese in this pesto; if desired you can add some or add to the final dish as a topping. If freezing pesto omit the cheese.


  • 5 heaping cups of kale, rinsed with heavier stems trimmed and discarded
  • 1 large clove of garlic
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons walnuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons Meyer Lemon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Prepared Brown Rice Penne (I used Tinkyada which is gluten-free)


  1. In a small, dry sauté pan at high heat, place walnut pieces and stirring constantly allow to lightly toast. Watch for color darkening; about 5 minutes. Set aside.
  2. Combine the olive oils (or if you choose, just use ¼ cup of extra virgin olive oil).
  3. In the bowl of a food processor, place kale, garlic clove and walnuts. Pulse to begin to break down the kale. As food processor is running, drizzle olive oil into the food processor bowl stopping to scrape down sides if needed.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Serve on hot or cold pasta of your choosing.

Kale Walnut Meyer Lemon Pesto with Brown Rice Penne Pasta (gluten-free) BoulderLocavore.com

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  1. says

    Looks fabulous; I often use walnuts in my pestos with delicious results. I thought your comment about how the pesto should not include cheese if you'll be freezing it was interesting though. I include parmesan all the time and it freezes well with no bad effects.

    • says

      Good to know about the Parmesan and your experience with freezing. It is advice I've read in several places including Mark Bittman's cookbook because cheese often does not freeze well. I wonder if it has to do with the combination of pesto ingredients and the cheese perhaps? If it's working for you, keep doing it! I loved the walnuts in this pesto too. It's a great, simple recipe to swap out different greens and nuts. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. says

    I would so much like to make different kinds of pesto, especially when I see ones like this that look so delicious and use what we have a lot of (kale). Unfortunately, Hubby ate some when we were in Italy years ago and he got very sick afterwards. Don't know if it was the pesto or just a bug, but you know how that kind of thing goes. He can't stand it now. I've had more luck with chimichurri sauces though, thank goodness.

    • says

      Oh yikes. I personally just had an experience like your husband in that the same day I made a certain dish a virus I had took a stomach turn. Even though I was not sick on anything I ate my association with the day and the food is so strong I'm unsure I can break it! Maybe you can do a bit of experimenting with Dudette and if successful your husband may be able to check it out. Even with changing up the greens and nuts, pesto has a distinct flavor profile I think might make it hard for him to move passed his dilemma.

  3. says

    Nice recipe! I love how one can make pesto out of anything, although I'm pretty traditional and usually stick to basil (but I have so much of it growing in my garden!). I usually substitute walnuts for the pine nuts, too. And it's interesting making the transition from being a recipe-driven cook to a what's-fresh-in-the-market cook. I didn't do this deliberately, it just kind of happened. It's a fun way to cook. A book you might want to take a look at is The Flavor Bible by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg. This is arranged by ingredient, and lists which other ingredients have flavors that combine particularly well. I like it, at any rate – and really like your Kale Pesto! Thanks.

    • says

      Thank you and I completely agree. Whatever is most abundant in my garden drives my idea flow too. This kale really needed to be harvested and I did not want to prepare it in a traditional way.

      Thanks much for the book suggestion too! This is sounding very familiar. Need to go peruse our cookbook selections to see if its one I've forgotten about. I also agree it's a fun way to cook and has really broadened my repertoire too!

  4. says

    I've been thinking about trying kale pesto – you have just convinced me – like the combo with the brown rice pasta – kale is hearty enough for depth of flavor. Have toyed with being a locavore (not). There are too many things I would miss (citrus and stone fruits).

    • says

      I'm glad you'll try kale pesto now Claudia! On being a locavore, the first winter I was executing a very specific experiment to see if it could be done in a seasonal region. It really lead me to some unexpected and fabulous resources I don't think I would have found otherwise. Now that the purist experiment is done I sill always strive to buy local first though there are some things just not available in Colorado that I'll still purchase from time to time. I do still try to buy as much of my produce and meat from this region though.

  5. says

    OMG- I am totally trying this. We love kale, but sometimes get tired of the same 'ole preparations. We've been in the process of moving towards a more vegetarian/vegan diet this spring- eating meat only once or twice a week. This will be a perfect dinner for us!

    • says

      I too don't eat much meat and though I like meat I'm finding more of a challenge eating it emotionally frankly as time goes along. A dilemma. In any case this has robust flavor and is simple and rustic. I've been down with a virus for over a week and this is the first non rice cake-toast-banana thing I've eaten really. I loved the fresh, vibrant flavor and know it's full of nutrients as well.

  6. says

    First a happy, happy birthday is in order. I hope you had a WONDERFUL day. Hope you got up to some fun shenanigans.

    PS.. LOVE the idea of a pesto with Kale. I'll be making that for my boyfriend. He'll think he died and went to heaven.

    • says

      Jenny thank you for the birthday wishes! I had a sweet, simple day; thank you. Recovering from a virus so no shenanigans but that's ok! Hope you WILL love the pesto. It tastes so alive when it's made fresh!

  7. says

    Excellent point about how most of us choose the food we want to make…we find the recipe first, and then go out and get the ingredients, regardless of season. I know that my local farmer's market forces me to be more creative in that sense, because I can't help but snap up the lovely produce. Yummy pesto!

    • says

      I am the same! I have a soft spot for 'cute' and novel produce. I also have strived to pick things I have not made before, using the market a bit as a teaching tool. I think it's very natural to cook with a recipe leading the way but as eating habits shift to seasonal and/or local produce it stretches all of us I think. I think I'm a much better and more ingredient-conscious cook now!

  8. says

    Wow this Kale pesto look fantastic!! I love that the kale was a “rescue plant”. I'm also very glad to get the tip on brown rice pasta. We are a over a week into our gluten free diet and I haven't made any pasta yet for fear of the texture of gluten free pasta. I'm going out today in search of brown rice pasta. I wonder if I can find it 'packaging free' at Whole Foods? I must say that we feel great after only a short time!

    • says

      I don't think Tinkyada comes in bulk but you can definitely buy it in packages at Whole Foods Lisa. I believe it is the best GF pasta for structure (the biggest issue with non gluten pasta). They offer it in a variety of shapes too; it's a staple in our house. If you commit to the GF lifestyle and life Tinkyada, you can buy it in bulk on Amazon in their grocery section. The per package cost is less than in the store and the shipping is rebated if you ship via their cheaper method due to the cost of a case. It's a good deal.

  9. Christi Flaherty says

    Hi. I just happened upon your blog yesterday and bookmarked it because of the logo. (I'm working with a designer and haven't been able to articulate fully the rustic look I'm seeking, but yours is a good example.) Anyway, when I was looking at it again today, I saw your kale pesto. It reminds me a bunch of one I made a few weeks ago (http://cookwhatyouvegot.blogspot.com/2012/04/ten-things-to-do-with-kale-kale-pesto.html) It's so fun to live this way. I, too, realized how backwards my menu planning was once I started primarily using what came from my veggie box. Looking forward to more posts. I'll be linking to you on my website and subscribing!

    • says

      Hi Christi! Thanks for stopping by and for your link too. I will definitely go read it. I think the reason eating this way is before the shift to local, seasonal eating we ALL went from recipes. Now the tide is shifting I think and soon starting with a recipe may be weird!

      Good luck with your designer. I did a redesign of my blog over the holidays and I understand how hard it is to really find the vibe you are looking for! So glad you enjoyed my blog!

  10. says

    First I need to get my hands on some Meyer lemon olive oil. I love pesto (didn't discover it until last year – love at first bite). I am mildly addicted to kale when I can sneak it in to the hosue as an alternative to spinach. I am going to have to try growing it too. My Swiss chard and spinach are doing great, so I figure kale would do well too. And then! (see I was going somewhere with that 'first') I need to try me some of this pesto. Beautiful.

    I find your locavour diet to be inspiring. I need to be more conscious of my menu choices.


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