Damn Good Kale Pesto with Walnuts & Pine Nuts

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A tried & true PWWB staple, Damn Good Kale Pesto! Made with walnuts, garlic, parmesan, lemon, & olive oil, this hearty kale basil pesto is loaded with superfood benefits – it’s nutrient-rich, has loads of fiber & antioxidants, & is great for digestion. Made with just 8 ingredients in 15 minutes or less, kale walnut pesto is a versatile fridge staple that pairs with anything from pasta to a simple summer vinaigrette (or even a turkey burger!). Naturally vegetarian, easily vegan & dairy-free.

Side angle of woman's hand taking a spoonful of kale pesto out of a jar of kale pesto. The jar sits atop a white surface, surrounded by lemon wedges & shredded kale.

Pin this Kale Pesto recipe for later!

Can you make pesto from kale? Yes, yes, YES!!!

With the farmer’s market season just getting underway here in Minnesota, it can only mean one thing…gorgeous, fresh summer produce is just around the corner. I couldn’t be more excited; it’s my favorite time of year. If you’re anything like me, though, it’s reeeally easy to go overboard on weekly farmer’s market visits. (Shout out to my fellow summertime veggie hoarders! 🙃) Searching for delicious ways to use up all my farmer’s market produce, I started making this kale basil pesto recipe years ago & I’ve never looked back. It’s a summertime staple here at the PWWB house!

This kale basil pesto has everything there is to love about summer in the form of a highly habit-forming sauce. The base recipe is a pretty classic Genovese-style basil pesto, with loads of hearty texture & bright flavor thanks to the simple additions of kale, walnuts, & lemon. You can pair it with just about anything (it’s also eat-straight-outta-the-jar good, no judgements here!), it stores like a dream, & best of all, it takes less than 15 minutes to whip up, start-to-finish. A weeknight dinner & meal prep dream!

Kale pesto pasta in a large pasta bowl, topped with shredded parmesan, lemon zest & pine nuts. The bowl sits atop a white surface, alongside a blue & white striped linen napkin, a salt cellar, basil leaves & lemon wedges.

One absolute must for homemade kale pesto? A high-speed blender. I’ve had the pleasure of blending with Zwilling’s Enfinigy Power Blender all year & simply put, I’m obsessed. It has a beautiful sleek & modern design (they even have a super chic matte black version!), its seriously powerful motor can break down even the toughest ingredients (I’m lookin’ at you, kale!), & the price point is ridiculously reasonable given its quality!

If you’re in the market for a high-speed blender, I couldn’t recommend the Enfinigy Power Blender more! (If you’re looking for something a little more compact, Zwilling also has an amazingly powerful personal blender, too!)

Kale pesto ingredients in Zwilling Enfinigy Blender. The Blender sits atop a white surface in front of a marble tiled backsplash. Surrounding the blender are lemon wedges, pine nuts, a salt cellar, & a jar of crushed red pepper flakes.

Damn Good Kale Pesto Recipe Highlights

Homemade kale walnut pesto is…

  • FAST. It’s made with with 8 simple summer staples in less than 15 minutes, thanks to our kitchen BFF, a high-speed blender.
  • FLAVORFUL. Even if you don’t love kale, you’ll love this pesto. This sauce is herbaceous thanks to a generous amount of basil, rich in flavor thanks to a trusty combination or parmesan & nuts, & totally bright thanks to my favorite secret ingredient.
  • VERSATILE. You can use it on pretty much everything – pasta, summer salads, sandwiches, burgers, roasted veggies, & more. Sky’s the limit, because kale walnut pesto seriously makes everything better.

A spring & summertime staple. ♡ Read on to learn more about this Damn Good Kale Pesto recipe, or jump straight to the recipe & get cookin’!

Kale Pesto Key Ingredients

This kale pesto recipe calls for less than 10 ingredients (& they’re all really simple!), but delivers a major punch of flavor.

Kale pesto ingredients arranged in a Zwilling Enfinigy Blender – basil, walnuts, parmesan, pine nuts, lemon zest, & kale. The blender jar sits atop a white surface surrounded by lemon wedges, pine nuts, basil, a salt cellar, & a jar of crushed red pepper flakes.
Note: full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

Full ingredients list & measurements provided in the Recipe Card, below.

You will need…

  • Kale – Of course! Curly kale & lacinato kale (which is also known as Tuscan or dinosaur kale) both work really well in this kale pesto recipe, so choose whatever looks best at the market. I highly suggest purchasing whole kale leaves rather than a bag of pre-shredded kale. Pre-shredded kale typically still has the fibrous stem attached to it, which isn’t particular tasty & doesn’t blend well into a nice sauce.
  • Basil – And lots of it!
  • Nuts – Nuts add really nice flavor & hearty texture to pesto. I use a combination of walnuts & pine nuts, which is a budget-friendly trick I picked up on in my restaurant days. Classic Genovese pesto is typically made with just pine nuts. They are so good but they’re pretty pricey. Bulking your pesto up with a less expensive nut is a great alternative. I like the meatiness of walnuts, but you could also use pistachios or cashews!
  • CheeseGrated parmesan or pecorino both work really well in kale basil pesto. Parmesan lends a richer, nuttier flavor that complements the nuts beautifully. Pecorino, a sheep’s milk cheese, is a little brighter & tangier. Choose whatever you love more!
  • Aromatics – Namely, garlic & lemon. Lemon is my secret ingredient for this otherwise traditional kale basil pesto recipe. It makes the kale less bitter & brightens the fresh flavors, really making them shine. I use both the lemon zest & fresh squeezed juice to really drive these flavors home.
  • Olive oil – Which brings everything together, acting as the vehicle to carry the fresh flavors in this kale walnut pesto recipe. This is a great time to reach for your extra virgin olive oil. Since the pesto is raw, the spicy & fruity notes of a nice EVOO will come through in the sauce.

How to make kale pesto

With your kale basil pesto ingredients gathered, all that’s left is blending them up! It’s that simple – this is a no-cook recipe (no blanching kale necessary!) & it takes less than 15 minutes to throw together thanks to a handy food processor or high-speed blender. A food processor yields a chunkier, more rustic pesto. A high-speed blender yields a silky-smooth sauce, which I think is absolutely divine.

Tips for blending kale pesto:

  • Order matters! – The order in which you add ingredients to a blender makes a huge difference in how well they blend together. Start by blending the recipe’s liquids & most solid ingredients, then incorporate the more delicate ingredients. For this kale basil pesto recipe, you’ll first blend together the olive oil, lemon juice, nuts, & garlic, creating a hearty base to which the greens can cling.
  • Work in batches & use the tamper! – Adding the kale to the blender jar in batches helps it blend into a smooth, thick sauce quickly & more easily. Take advantage of the tamper that came with your blender, as you can use it to push the greens down into the blender blades as the blender runs.
  • A high-speed blender is a must! – Of course! I’ve been using Zwilling’s Enfinigy Power Blender all year, & I absolutely love it. It performs extremely well, thanks to a powerful, 1400-watt motor that easily blends anything I put in it, & the price point is absolutely fabulous.
Kale basil pesto in a jar, with a spoon in it. The jar sits atop a white surface.

Kale walnut pesto FAQs:

  • Can I make it dairy-free? Yep! For a dairy-free & vegan kale pesto, omit the parmesan cheese or replace it with 1 heaping tablespoon of nutritional yeast to mimic the cheesy flavor.
  • Can I make it nut-free? Yep! For a nut-free version, simply omit the nuts or replace with an equal amount of hemp seeds.
  • How long does homemade kale pesto last in the refrigerator? It’ll keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 1 week. These are my favorite storage containers!
  • How to freeze kale pesto? ⇢ This recipe is incredibly freezer-friendly. In fact, I like making as many batches as possible during the summer, when both kale & basil are at the height of their seasons, & I freeze leftovers to use throughout the year. I suggest freezing in small portions in a silicone container (like these). When you freeze small portions, no extensive thawing is necessary – you can zap it in the microwave for a minute or toss the frozen pesto right into hot pasta & it’ll thaw out in no time. Easy!

Serving ideas for kale walnut pesto

The best part of making homemade kale pesto? Devouring it, hands down! This kale walnut pesto is just as versatile as it is flavorful. You can use it in pasta, of course, but it also pairs with just about anything you’ll make this summer.

Side angle of woman's hand taking a spoonful of kale pesto out of a jar of kale pesto. The jar sits atop a white surface, surrounded by lemon wedges & shredded kale.

A few serving ideas to get you started…

  • Pasta! Kale pesto is great tossed into your favorite pasta dishes. This Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops is one of my all-time favorites. If I’m craving something simpler, though, I’ll just toss the kale pesto into a twirly short pasta & garnish with lemon zest, pine nuts, & plenty of parmesan. Simple, but so satisfying! Tip ⇢ Use the starchy pasta water to thin out the pesto a little, making a beautifully glossy kale pesto pasta sauce.
  • Salad! Be sure to try my Caprese Salad 2.0, because summer living doesn’t get better than juicy tomatoes & herbaceous kale basil pesto.
  • Sandwiches! A few of my favorite things in the world involve folding kale pesto into a juicy turkey burger or drizzling it all over a veggie breakfast burrito.
  • Veggies! Sometimes simple is best, because nothing beats a drizzling of homemade pesto over roasted or grilled veggies.
  • Sauce! Use kale pesto to create a beautiful basil aioli for burgers & sandwiches or a basil vinaigrette. Quick & easy!

The options are truly endless…get creative, have fun with it, & most importantly – enjoy!

Kale pesto pasta in a large pasta bowl, topped with shredded parmesan, lemon zest & pine nuts. The bowl sits atop a white surface, alongside a blue & white striped linen napkin, a salt cellar, basil leaves & lemon wedges.

I can’t wait for you to try this Damn Good Kale Pesto! It’s light & bright goodness & you’ll love pairing it with all of your meals this summer. If you do give it a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!

Love quick & easy sauces? Same here! Check out PWWB Chimichurri Sauce (a PWWB fave!), Chermoula (an easy Moroccan herb sauce), or this vegan Cashew Crema next! Happy cooking! ♡

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Kale pesto in a bowl atop a white plate. There is a spoon in the pesto. Surrounding the plate are walnuts, pine nuts, fresh basil & kale.

Damn Good Kale Pesto with Walnuts & Pine Nuts

  • Author: Jess Larson
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: 1 1/2 cups 1x
  • Category: Sauces & Condiments, Pasta Recipes
  • Method: No-Cook, Blender
  • Cuisine: Italian
  • Diet: Vegetarian

Description

Made with walnuts, garlic, parmesan, lemon, & olive oil, this hearty kale pesto is loaded with superfood benefits – nutrient-rich, loaded with fiber & antioxidants, & great for digestion. Kale basil pesto is a versatile fridge staple that pairs with anything from pasta to a simple summer vinaigrette (or even a turkey burger!). Naturally vegetarian, easily vegan & dairy-free.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 cups firmly packed chopped kale (roughly 3.25 ounces)
  • 2 cups firmly packed basil leaves & tender stems (roughly 3 ounces)
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 lemon, zested & juiced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ⅓ cup walnuts, toasted 
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted 
  • ⅓ cup finely grated parmesan
  • optional: up to 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flake
  • kosher salt & ground black pepper, to tasteKale pesto ingredients arranged on a white surface: basil, lemons, kale, pine nuts, walnuts, parmesan, lemon zest, salt, olive oil, red pepper flakes & kale.

Instructions

  1. Prep the kale pesto: Add the olive oil, lemon zest & juice, garlic, walnuts, & pine nuts to the jar of a high-speed blender. Blend 5-10 seconds, roughly breaking down the nuts. Add the parmesan, kale, & basil to the blender, & blend until combined. Taste and season with additional salt, ground black pepper, or crushed red pepper flake, as desired. Quick tips: It’s very helpful to add the greens in batches, using the tamper to tamp the greens down into the blades. Stop to scrape down the sides of the blender jar as needed. I use the Enfinigy Power Blender’s preprogrammed ‘cocktail’ setting & the pesto comes together as a thick, vibrantly green sauce in about 45 seconds – 1 minute.
  2. Serve: Enjoy your kale pesto immediately. It’s, of course, great tossed into your favorite pasta dishes. (this Pesto Pasta with Seared Scallops is one of my all-time favorites). It’s also great in breakfast burritos, drizzled over a gorgeous summer salad, whipped into an herbaceous aioli, folded into a turkey burger, & so much more. Get creative & have fun with it – sky’s the limit!Kale basil pesto in a jar, with a spoon in it. The jar sits atop a white surface surrounded by lemon wedges & shredded kale.


Notes

  • Storage: This kale pesto will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for up to 1 week. 
  • Freezer: To freeze kale pesto, store in a freezer safe container (these are my favorite!) for up to 3 months. Thaw in the refrigerator a day before you’d like to use it. 
  • Easy variations:
    • Dairy-free & vegan kale pesto – Omit the parmesan cheese, or replace it with 1 heaping tablespoon of nutritional yeast to mimic the cheesy flavor.
    • Nut-free kale pesto –Simply omit the walnuts & pine nuts, or replace with an equal amount of hemp seeds.
    • Food processor kale pesto – If you do not have a high-speed blender, you can also prep kale pesto using a food processor. Note, the texture will be a little thicker & more rustic, but it’ll still be tasty! To make in a food processor, simply place the kale, basil, walnuts, pine nuts, parmesan, garlic, lemon zest, & crushed red pepper flake (if using), in the food processor. Place the lemon juice & olive oil in a liquid measuring cup. Pulse to roughly chop & combine the kale mixture. Once chopped into fine pieces, slowly stream in the olive oil mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor as needed. The pesto should come together as a thick, vibrantly green sauce. Taste and season with additional salt or ground black pepper, as desired.

Keywords: Kale pesto, easy, healthy, vegetarian, gluten-free

Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House & Eat Love Eat.

Kale basil pesto in a jar, with a spoon in it. The jar sits atop a white surface surrounded by lemon wedges & shredded kale.

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Thank you so much for reading & supporting Plays Well With Butter. This post includes affiliate links for products I truly love & use on the reg in my own home. All opinions are always my own! Should you make a purchase using one of these links, PWWB will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you, which helps me continue to bring you great original & free content.

Don’t forget to pin this Kale Pesto recipe for later!!!

kale pesto via playswellwithbutter | easy, delicious & versatile, kale pesto will become a fridge staple in your house!

Hi there, I'm Jess!

If there’s 1 thing to know about me, it’s this: I am head-over-heels in love with food. I’m on a mission to make weeknight cooking flavorful, fast, & fun for other foodies, & PWWB is where I share foolproof recipes that deliver major flavor with minimal effort. Other true loves: pretty shoes, puppies, Grey’s Anatomy, & my cozy kitchen in Minneapolis, MN.

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Comments

  1. 8.29.16
    Lori said:

    Do you mix the pesto into a vinaigrette to make a dressing?

    • 8.29.16
      jess said:

      yes! 2 tbsp would do the trick!