Signs of spring are evident all around me with colorful flowers and lush green trees lining the streets of my city.
Green things are also popping up at all the farmer’s markets. Vegetables, fruits, edible flowers, all overwhelmingly pretty and delicious to eat and to look at.
Kale, the deepest green of them all, is what caught my eye the other day. I grabbed it and couldn’t wait to cook with it because you know how much I love it, and as it will be soon be out of season, there’s not a moment to waste.
My mind was filled with ideas of what to make but S convinced me to pair it with pasta. At first I thought about sautéing it in olive oil with garlic and a little lemon and adding it to my pasta, but then pesto came to mind. I am not a fan of basil so I never make the classic pesto but a kale pesto? I was definitely game for that.
A simple yet deeply satisfying, hearty and lively dish was born. Apart from the usual pesto suspects of garlic, olive oil and pine nuts, I added some fresh mint together with the kale which gave it vibrancy and freshness. I used Greek Kefalotyri cheese —which fortunately I had on hand from a recent visit back home to Greece— not only for a generous grating on top of the pasta but in the pesto as well. Its creamy quality gave a rich flavor and savoriness to my pasta and made the dish even more enjoyable.
The pesto was fresh, aromatic and salty with both sweet and bitter notes from the kale, and I added a few finely chopped pieces of my homemade preserved lemon to the pasta that added acidity and balanced the earthy and herby flavors of the kale pesto.
Kale pesto fusilli with Greek Kefalotyri cheese and preserved lemon
You don’t need much preserved lemon, just enough to enliven the pasta and add another flavor dimension to it. You can add lemon zest instead if you don’t have any preserved lemon on hand.
You can use pecorino romano instead of Greek Kefalotyri in case you can’t find it.
Yield: 4 servings
for the pesto
70 g (about 2 packed cups) fresh kale without stems, chopped
13-15 fresh small mint leaves
7 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
65 g pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
45 g Greek Kefalotyri (or pecorino), grated
1 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Freshly ground white pepper
for the pasta
500 g dried fusilli
10 slices preserved lemon (only the rind, chopped), I used my homemade quick preserved lemons
Greek Kefalotyri (or pecorino), for sprinkling on top of the pasta
Special equipment: small food processor, rasp grater, strainer
for the pesto
In a small skillet or sauté pan add the pine nuts and place over a medium heat. Toast them, stirring often so they don’t get burned, until they become fragrant and brown lightly. Transfer them to a small bowl and allow to cool.
In the food processor, add the garlic and toasted pine nuts and process until you have a coarse paste. Add the kale, mint and 2 Tbsp olive oil to help process the kale smoothly, and process to a puree. Then add the rest of the olive oil (5 Tbsp) and the lemon juice and pulse until combined. Add the grated cheese and some pepper and pulse until just combined and you have a somewhat smooth-textured pesto. Give it a taste and add salt if needed. Pulse for a few seconds.
for the pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the fusilli. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking.
Strain the pasta but make sure to keep a couple of cups of pasta water. It is valuable and will help you adjust the consistency of the sauce.
Return the strained pasta to the pot and add the pesto. Don’t add all of it at once, add ¾ at first and see if it needs more. Then add some of the pasta water to loosen the sauce, add the preserved lemon and stir through gently with a rubber spatula so you don’t break up the delicate fusilli. You can add more pesto or pasta water if you think it needs it, as well as some white pepper.
Serve immediately with a good grating of cheese on top.
Alternatively, you can skip the preserved lemon and grate some fresh lemon zest on top, or you can serve it without lemon at all, but I think the lemon brings brightness to it that is very nice.