Summer Veggie Pasta with Kale Pesto and Parmesan

I thought kale was a winter vegetable.

Then I read about all the summer harvests of fresh kale in the gardening blogs I follow.

Turns out kale is actually a really hearty plant that grows all year long.

I might have actually learned this on my own if I had planted my first garden this summer, as I intended to do.

But time ran (bolted. sprinted.) away from me, just like it seems to every summer (it must be a universally recognized fact that days move at 3 times the pace in sunny summer months versus dreary winter months.)

So after I finally got my facts straight on kale, I thought: what could me more perfect for a warm summer evening than a light and crisp summer veggie pasta smothered with lots of kale pesto and Parmesan?

Turns out, not much.

This pasta is so bright and fresh yet satisfyingly creamy and cheesy at the same time.

And it’s pretty quick and simple to make too.

Here are all the fresh, summery ingredients you’ll need to get started.

Begin by preheating the oven to 375 degrees F.

Arrange some pine nuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet and toast the pine nuts for a few minutes.

And just keep a really close eye on them so you get them out of the oven when they’re still beautifully light golden and not a charred black (you’ve learned from the master of burnt pine nuts).

Grab a clove of garlic and press your knife down flat on the clove, smashing. This makes it easy to peel away the outer skin.  No need to take the time to mince it because it will be puréed in a food processor later.

Also roughly chop up half an onion into quarters.

Again, you only need to chop it up enough so the food processor can do all the real work later.

If nothing else, please know that this blog will always offer you my best, tried-and-true, lazy shortcuts.

Heat up some extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat.

And add the garlic, onion, and lots of fresh kale.

Season well with salt and pepper.

Saute this mixture until the veggies are nicely softened.

Scoop about half of the kale mixture into a food processor and purée.

Then scoop the remaining kale, along with any remaining olive oil they cooked in, into the food processor.  Add the toasted pine nuts and pulse again until you have a thick, well-puréed pesto.

If you’ve thought about cooking with kale, but haven’t ventured there yet, this kale pesto is an easy and tasty place to start!

And if you already love kale, this thick and creamy pesto preparation offers a new twist on a classic pesto made with basil.

For all those who didn’t quite get around to growing their own fresh basil this summer (yes, my hand is raised) kale is generally cheaper and holds up so much better and longer in the fridge.

It’s incredibly healthy too.  The list of health benefits from eating kale goes on and on and on: low in calories (only about 35 calories in a cup), high in fiber (to keep you feeling full, lower your cholesterol and prevent heart disease), high in Vitamins A, C, and K (provides anti-cancer health benefits), lots of lutein (to keep your eyes strong and healthy) and even a good dose of calcium (for strong bones).

So yup, you can feel pretty good about loading up your plate with a generous portion of kale pesto.

Next, grab a red bell pepper and slice off each of the four sides.

This leaves the stem and seeds intact and easy to throw away.

Cut each quarter into thin strips, lengthwise.  Then run your knife in the opposite direction, dicing up the pepper.

Grab a zucchini and chop off both ends.

Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise …

… and then cut the first half into thin strips.

Then run your knife in the opposite direction, dicing the zucchini.

Repeat the exact same process used for the zucchini to dice up the summer squash.

My squash happened to be very thin on one end and very thick on the other.  So I added the step of cutting it in half before cutting the thin strips.  This makes it easier to cut and helps keep the chopped squash all uniformly sized.

Grab some real Parmigiano Reggiano (you’ll know it’s the real deal when you see it labeled on the rind as pictured!)  and grate it.

Next, heat up a large sauté pan over medium-high heat.

Add the diced red pepper, zucchini, and summer squash and season well with salt and pepper.

Cook until the veggies are nicely softened.

While the veggies are cooking, boil a large pot of salted water and add some whole wheat penne.  When the pasta is just cooked through (al dente), drain the pasta but be sure to hang on to the water the pasta was boiled in because…

… the next step is to stir and combine the cooked pasta, the Kale Pesto, and about 1/4 of cup of the pasta water.

The pasta water helps thin out the pesto and helps the pesto cling to the penne (so much lighter and healthier than adding super-high-calorie olive oil  to thin out the pesto).

Finally, stir in the sautéed veggies and all that delicious Parmesan.

What I love about this pasta: The sautéed kale and onion lend a slightly sweet flavor to the nutty pesto.

Which tastes so irresistibly tasty with the salty, melted Parmesan.

This dish tastes really bright, crisp, and fresh.

With just enough creamy, nutty pesto and Parmesan to make it indulgent.

Here is the complete recipe:

Summer Veggie Pasta with Kale Pesto and Parmesan
Total Time: 35 minutes
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 15 minutes
Yield: 8 servings 
For the Kale Pesto:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 large onion, roughly chopped
8 ounces chopped kale
1/4 cup pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the Summer Veggie Pasta:
16 ounces whole wheat penne
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large zucchini, diced
1 large summer squash, diced
Kale Pesto
2 1/2 cups Parmesan, freshly grated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper


For the Kale Pesto:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Arrange the pine nuts on a parchment-lined baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5-7 minutes, or until the pine nuts are lightly golden – watch carefully, as they burn quickly.
Heat 1/3 cup olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add the garlic, onion, and kale.  Season well with salt and pepper, and sauté about 6-9 minutes, or until veggies are softened.
Transfer about half the kale mixture to a food processor and pulse until mixture is purée .  Add the rest of the mixture and pulse again.  Add the pine nuts and pulse until a thick, well-pureed pesto is formed.


For the Summer Veggie Pasta:
Boil a large pot of water. Salt the water and add the penne.  Cook until just al dente, about 8-9 minutes.
While the pasta cooks, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the bell pepper, zucchini, and summer squash and season well with salt and pepper. When the veggies are softened, after about 6-9 minutes, transfer the cooked and drained pasta to the pan.  Stir in the Kale Pesto and about 1/4 cup of the water the pasta cooked in (to help thin out the pesto).  Add the grated Parmesan and stir everything to combine.  Serve.

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  1. August 15, 2012 / 9:39 am

    This looks lovely, and I bet it tastes even better!
    I’m glad I’m not the only one who let the ball drop on starting a garden this summer.

  2. 21stcenturyhousewife
    August 15, 2012 / 9:44 am

    I’ve always been a little nervous about kale, but as you say, this is a great place to start. Your summer veggie pasta looks absolutely delicious!

  3. August 15, 2012 / 10:27 am

    I totally love kale, eat it every day. In my smoothies, in salads and sautes, not to mention chips. This looks great!

  4. August 15, 2012 / 1:37 pm

    Love pasta with veggies. The idea of kale pesto sounds delicious. Thanks for the idea.

  5. August 15, 2012 / 1:47 pm

    Little, chef …. this looks so good .. I can feel the smell *smile – great pasta, even if I’m not a vegetarian I would enjoy a big plate or bowl of this. Ever thought of doing pesto of kale – don’t really like kale – but this really speaks to me. Put on file. How is the gorgeous Calvin doing … ???? Time for new photos now.

  6. August 15, 2012 / 2:40 pm

    What a great idea – I enjoy kale but think that I’d LOVE it as pesto x You’ve also reminded me that I need to grow some myself pretty soon!

  7. August 15, 2012 / 4:00 pm

    What a summery delicious pasta 😀
    Fantastic ingredients!

    Choc Chip Uru

  8. August 15, 2012 / 4:07 pm

    I was confused about when kale is in season, too, but I keep seeing it at the farmer’s market, so I just keep buying it! I only recently tried kale chips, and am looking for new ways to cook up my kale. This looks soooo good.

  9. August 15, 2012 / 4:21 pm

    I love your lightened up pesto! This is truly the perfect summer pasta dish.

  10. August 15, 2012 / 4:52 pm

    Oh my gosh! This looks delicious. I saw a similar dish about a month ago but this one looks much healthier and more appealing to me – it leaves out Half & Half which is a good thing 🙂

  11. August 15, 2012 / 6:49 pm

    I don’t really like kale but I would try this! You made it look so good.

  12. August 15, 2012 / 8:44 pm

    Yum! This looks and sounds wonderful!

  13. August 16, 2012 / 6:35 am

    This looks delicious! And perfect timing, I just bought some kale in order to make your winter pasta recipe with kale…and needed to buy a HUGE bunch because that was how the grocer sold it. I was going to make chips, but I might give this a crack as well and impress the man with my amazing cooking 🙂

    Also, he grew up with beagles and is hanging out for more photos of your beagle pup 😛

    • August 25, 2012 / 6:02 am

      To add: cooked it, and it was a hit! And left-over kale pesto (there was a lot) is also amazing in toasted sandwiches 🙂 Thank you muchly for the recipe, it went down a treat!

  14. August 16, 2012 / 10:22 am

    this looks amazing and healthy and the kale pesto sounds amazing! I really need to try some kale.

  15. mjskit
    August 16, 2012 / 11:47 am

    What a hearty, healthy and delicious looking pasta dish!!! Love the kale pesto!

  16. August 17, 2012 / 1:10 pm

    This looks so good! Your pastas are always amazing!

  17. August 18, 2012 / 6:20 pm

    I’m always curious about kale. Kale pesto sounds like a reaaaaally great idea.

  18. August 20, 2012 / 2:12 pm

    This summer is the first time that I’ve made both chard and kale pesto, and am I ever pleased with the discovery! So good for you, so delicious! I love the whole concept here – wonderful!

  19. August 20, 2012 / 10:38 pm

    Looks tasty! Here’s my reason to buy a big bag of kale!

  20. August 21, 2012 / 2:10 pm

    KALE pesto!! You genius, you! I adore kale and I have never seen someone make pesto out of it! Your pasta looks delicious and I can’t wait to whip up a batch of kale pesto!

  21. August 21, 2012 / 5:57 pm

    This looks like something I would like to eat now 🙂

  22. August 26, 2012 / 12:31 pm

    I love the colors in this dish, looks like it would be a beautiful crowd-pleaser! I must try it; pesto is a staple of mine! Thanks for sharing 🙂

  23. Lindsay @ Pinch of Yum
    August 27, 2012 / 8:51 am

    Your blog is so cute! And this looks super yummy. 😉

  24. August 27, 2012 / 4:54 pm

    Your blog is always so informative and has such great photographs. Just wanted you to know that I have nominated you for the One Lovely Blog award because I enjoy reading your posts.. You can find out about it on my post “Unexpected Blessings” at Blessings to you.

  25. August 31, 2012 / 3:15 pm

    I love this! It’d be great to make at the beginning of the week for lunches all week. Great job, the flavors seems so bright!

  26. July 2, 2014 / 5:36 pm

    I know this is an old post, but I just discovered it and wanted to leave you a note anyway.

    For the first time this year, I signed up for a CSA box from my local farmer’s market. And, for the last 4 weeks, I’ve wasted beautiful bundles of kale as they wilted away in my fridge because I didn’t take the time to figure out what to do with them. Not today. Still having last week’s summer squash and kale in the fridge, I found MORE in this week’s box today. Google landed me here with the perfect storm of what I wanted, (if you include the pesto craving I’ve had lately, and my inability to find fresh basil anywhere).

    Anyway. I wanted to tell you I made the kale pesto and can’t stop spooning it into my mouth while I wait for dinner time. It’s. So. Good! I’ll be sauteing summer squash, garlic scapes and a giant leek-looking onion (also from my CSA box) to be tossed with this pesto for dinner tonight. Thank you for this recipe. I know I’ll be making it over and over. (I’ve got some tiny, TINY red potatoes on my counter calling out to be some sort of salad. Perhaps a pesto potato salad?)

    • Jen Elizabeth's Journals
      July 3, 2014 / 9:10 am

      Thanks so much for your note, I’m so glad you found a good use for all that fresh kale (that pesto potato salad idea sounds delish by the way)! It’s true this is an older post, but thanks for reminding me of an old favorite I’m going to have to make again… 🙂

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