Meatless Monday – Kale Pesto Pasta

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Kale Pesto? Sounds too healthy doesn’t it? Wait, don’t run away screaming. I know the Kale ‘fad’ has been around for a while but bear with me.   Pesto made with a dark leafy green like kale is surprisingly delicious and so easy.  This is a NO COOK sauce that can be thrown together in about five minutes (while the pasta is cooking) and dinner is on the table easily in less than 20 minutes (including the time it takes for the water to boil).   I also used non-traditional pistachios, which are a MUFA (Mono Unsaturated Fatty Acid) aka ‘good fat’ for a richer flavor.  I actually think I liked this pesto better than the traditional version – And the extra vitamins and minerals are an added bonus. This could be the way you get YOUR picky eaters to eat their greens…

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So we all know that Kale is King, since we are told ad nauseum, but why?  Kale is very high in nutrients and very low in calories, making it one of the most nutrient dense foods on the planet.  A single cup of raw kale contains 3 grams of protein and an alphabet list of vitamins and hard to get minerals:

  • Vitamin A: 206% of the RDA (from beta-carotene).
  • PistachiosVitamin K: 684% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin C: 134% of the RDA.
  • Vitamin B6: 9% of the RDA.
  • Manganese: 26% of the RDA.
  • Calcium: 9% of the RDA.
  • Copper: 10% of the RDA.
  • Potassium: 9% of the RDA.
  • Magnesium: 6% of the RDA.
  • Then it contains 3% or more of the RDA for Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Iron and Phosphorus.

You get all of this and more for the low price of 33 calories and very little fat.  That, my friends, is why kale is deserving of the crown.  Furthermore, kale is actually pretty versatile.  It can be sliced into ribbons and eaten raw in salads, sauteed or added to pasta, soups and stews.  Or you can make this delicious Kale Pesto which is a sneaky smart way to get kale onto the dinner table.  BTW, Pistachios are no slouch either, adding protein, beneficial antioxidants, vitamins B and E, and a whole slew of minerals, including iron.

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I used baby kale from my garden but any dark leafy green would work well too, like spinach, mustard or collard greens.  Arugula would  made a nice, zesty pesto.  Since its uncooked, this sauce works best with young leafy greens. if you want to give it a try with larger, more mature leaves , I would recommend removing the stems and larger ribs and blanching them in boiling water for 45 seconds, then running them under cold water. Squeeze the water out with paper towels before processing to avoid a too watery sauce.

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I hate eating empty carbs so try to use whole grain pasta whenever possible.  Whole grain pastas have come a long way in the past few years, in response to demand for high quality healthful ingredients.  I like Tru Roots Ancient Grain Penne Pasta which is organic and gluten free, made with brown rice, quinoa, amaranth and corn.  It has a great texture (not gluey like so many others) and tastes like regular pasta.  It’s also available at Costco so I buy it in volume.

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TIPS: To further boost flavor and nutrition, try topping your pesto pasta with roasted butternut or summer squash which adds a creamy sweetness.  Just peel and cube squash, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast at 450 degrees for about a half hour.  Let cool slightly and toss with pasta.  Yum!

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KALE PESTO PASTA

PASTA

3/4 lb penne, gemelli or fusilli pasta (preferably whole grain)
1 Tbsn olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup cooking water (reserve before draining)

PESTO

1 large bunch kale (about 3 cups roughly chopped leaves)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup pistachios (walnuts, cashews or pine nuts), toasted
1 cup olive oil
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp salt
1 cup grated parmesan

TOPPINGS (Optional)

Fresh basil, chopped or julienned
shredded or flaked parmesan
lemon zest

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  • Roughly chop the kale and place it in a food processor with the pistachios and garlic. Pulse until coarsely chopped.

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  • With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil to form a smooth sauce.

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  • Add the salt, lemon zest and parmesan and pulse to combine.

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  • Pour the pesto into a large bowl and set aside.

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  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 8-10 minutes or until al dente. Scoop out a cup of pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta.  Add the hot pasta to the bowl with pesto and  toss well to evenly coat.  Add some of the reserved cooking water if necessary.

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  •  Serve with fresh basil and more lemon zest and parmesan, if desired.  To make ahead or store, put in a container, cover the surface with a little more olive oil and keep in the refrigerator for a week, or freeze for up to a month.

 

Kale Pesto Pasta

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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PASTA

3/4 lb penne, gemelli or fusilli pasta (preferably whole grain)
1 Tbsn olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup cooking water (reserve before draining)

PESTO

1 large bunch kale (about3 cups roughly chopped leaves)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup pistachios (walnut or pine nuts), toasted
1 cup olive oil
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp salt
1 cup grated parmesan

TOPPINGS (Optional)

Fresh basil, chopped or julienned
shredded or flaked parmesan
lemon zest

 

  • Roughly chop the kale and place it in a food processor with the pistachios and garlic. Pulse until coarsely chopped.
  • With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil to form a smooth sauce.
  • Add the salt, lemon zest and parmesan and pulse to combine.
  • Pour the pesto into a large bowl and set aside.
  • Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for 8-10 minutes or until al dente. Scoop out a cup of pasta water and set aside. Drain the pasta.  Add the hot pasta to the bowl with pesto and  toss well to evenly coat. Add some of the reserved cooking water if necessary.
  • Serve with fresh basil and more lemon zest and parmesan, if desired.
  • To make ahead or store, put in a container, cover the surface with a little more olive oil and keep in the refrigerator for a week, or freeze for up to a month.

Meatless Monday – Penne Pasta with Asparagus & Kale

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Thinking green for tomorrow?  Asparagus is in season, so it must be spring!  Hey it’s a spring vegetable and I’ve always considered asparagus a harbinger of spring even though I know spring doesn’t officially begin until the 2oth.  My Dad used to pile us kids into the car on sunny spring Saturday mornings, and head out to the countryside, armed with sharp knives and plastic bread bags (which ‘back in the day’ were used for everything including snow shoe coverings) to ‘hunt’ for wild asparagus.  Of course, now I know that some of the fields were really abandoned asparagus farms that were turned into open space after big business moved in, which was why asparagus were so abundant and easy for little kids to find.  Sometimes we would feel inclined to sample a particularly tender young spear right on the spot.  My brothers and sisters and I loved the hunter-gatherer experience and would return home flush with our victory spoils.  Then my Mom would make a huge pile of steamed asparagus for dinner.  Yum!   Just for fun I found a photo of asparagus growing in the wild compliments of Wild Asparagus Growing.  Brings back memories.

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This pasta dish is so delicious and it’s simplicity is refreshing in that it has minimal ingredients and you can have dinner on the table in 20 minutes or less.  That already makes it a big winner in my book… however, we can also talk about how good it is for you too.  You already know that Kale is a nutritional powerhouse packed with vitamins and minerals.  But did you know that kale has more health benefitting phytochemicals than an other leafy green veggie?  Yeah, there’s a reason so many people are riding the kale train.

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Asparagus is no slouch itself.  Here are five things you may not know about asparagus:

  1. It’s loaded with nutrients: Asparagus is a very good source of fiber, folate, vitamins A, C, E and K, as well as chromium, a trace mineral that enhances the ability of insulin to transport glucose from the bloodstream into cells.
  2. It is a particularly rich source of glutathione, a detoxifying compound that helps break down carcinogens and other harmful compounds like free radicals.
  3. Asparagus is packed with antioxidants, ranking among the top fruits and vegetables for its ability to neutralize cell-damaging free radicals. This, according to preliminary research, may help slow the aging process.
  4. Another anti-aging property of this delicious spring veggie is that it may help our brains fight cognitive decline. Like leafy greens, asparagus delivers folate, which works with vitamin B12—found in fish, poultry, meat and dairy—to help prevent cognitive impairment. In a study from Tufts University, older adults with healthy levels of folate and B12 performed better on a test of response speed and mental flexibility. (If you’re 50-plus, be sure you’re getting enough B12: your ability to absorb it decreases with age.)
  5. One more benefit of asparagus: It contains high levels of the amino acid asparagine, which serves as a natural diuretic, and increased urination not only releases fluid but helps rid the body of excess salts. This is especially beneficial for people who suffer from edema (an accumulation of fluids in the body’s tissues) and those who have high blood pressure or other heart-related diseases.

So there you have it.  Simple, delicious and will make you live longer and healthier, younger and smarter.  What a combo!  Eat up!

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PENNE PASTA WITH ASPARAGUS AND KALE

3/4 lb penne pasta (preferably whole grain)
1 small bunch kale
1 bunch asparagus
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsn butter
1 Tbsn olive oil
1/2 cup scallions or spring onions, chopped
zest from one lemon
1 Tbsn fresh thyme
1/4 cup parmesan, shredded or flaked

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  • Cook pasta according to directions.  Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water before draining. Wash and prepare vegetables.

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  • Stack kale leaves and slice them sideways into julienne strips.  If your kale has a prominent center rib, remove it first. Discard the stems.

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  • Saute the kale and garlic in the butter and oil for several minutes.

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  • Cut the asparagus into 2 inch pieces and add to kale. Saute for about 5 minutes. Kale should be soft and asparagus softened but still slightly al dente.

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  • Turn off heat and add lemon zest, spring onions and thyme and stir

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  • Add pasta and parmesan, if using, and toss to combine, adding pasta water to desired consistency.

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  • To serve, top with more parmesan, if desired.

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Penne Pasta with Asparagus and Kale

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

 20150310_195733

3/4  lb penne pasta (preferably whole grain)
1 small bunch kale
1 bunch asparagus
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 Tbsn butter
1 Tbsn olive oil
1/2 cup scallions or spring onions, chopped
zest from one lemon
1 Tbsn fresh thyme
1/4 cup parmesan, shredded or flaked

  • Cook pasta according to directions.  Scoop out and reserve 1/2 cup pasta water before draining.
  • Stack kale leaves and slice them sideways into julienne strips.  If your kale has a prominent center rib, remove it first. Discard the stems.
  • Saute the kale in the butter and oil for several minutes.
  • Cut the asparagus into 2 inch pieces and add to kale. Saute for about 5 minutes. Kale should be soft and asparagus softened but still slightly al dente.
  • Turn off heat and add lemon zest, spring onions and thyme and stir
  • Add pasta and parmesan, toss to combine, adding pasta water to desired consistency.
  • Top with more parmesan, if desired.