Now is springtime! In Kansas City, it came on like a light bulb about a week ago. Cookie and I are overjoyed because the daffodils are starting to bloom and the birds are chirping. On our neighborhood walks, I can’t help but hum “The hills are alive.”
Today, I wanted to show you a dish of vividly green pasta. It is simple to prepare, filling, and comforting—exactly what we need right now. Though I wouldn’t blame you if you find the color unappealing, I assure you that it is quite tasty!
The unique feature of this recipe is that the pasta, peas, and kale—including the stems—are all cooked in the same pot of water. You must set several timers. It’s simple, but you might want to hold off on pouring another glass of wine until you’ve finished your meal.
When everything is combined, this dish nearly has a deconstructed ravioli flavor. It is vivid green and dotted with soft peas and ricotta. Make some tonight for dinner?
Recipe Notes for Kale Pasta
I got the idea for this dish from Chef Joshua McFadden and Martha Holmberg’s book Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables. I frequently turn to this cookbook because it is one of my personal favorites. I’m gradually learning all of Joshua’s vegetable preparation methods (for instance, he proposes grilling vegetables without oil; give it a shot and let’s report back).
The true vibrancy and silkiness of this fresh sauce are difficult to convey in photographs. Mine are not accurate. This dish was originally skipped by me in the book, but I later came upon it in The New York Times. I was attracted by the method because it reminded me of these spinach-stuffed shells. In both recipes, greens are first transformed into something more appetizing before being briefly cooked in boiling water.
Joshua uses a whole pound of kale in his preparation and discards the stems along the way. I use the broccoli stems in my broccoli cheese soup, so I reasoned that adding kale stems may be interesting. It succeeded! The stems were simply cut into quarter-inch pieces, boiled in a colander for a few minutes, and then I added the kale to cook on the bottom.
By using the stems, which make up over 40% of the kale’s weight, I was able to produce the sauce using only half as much kale. For this recipe, you just need a hefty bundle of it.
Lemon was added; the more, the merrier. Lemon juice and zest give the sauce a lot of life. Peas were also included to offer even more wholesome greenness and a wonderful texture. Unless you find incredibly fresh peas and make this spaghetti right away, the peas might as well be frozen.
Lastly, I topped the dish with dollops of ricotta. Ricotta is something I’ve previously failed at (most ricotta is bland, even my homemade attempt). But I just learned about Organic Valley’s ricotta. I enjoy it because of how tasty and creamy it is. A lot.
Change It Up
This pasta is versatile! Make it as is, or try any of the following adjustments.
- Add a fried egg for additional protein
- Garnish with fresh leafy herbs—dill, parsley and chives are all nice
- Substitute another hardy green for the kale—I’ve read that arugula, chard and collard greens work
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This recipe is easy to make if you have these basic kitchen tools on the ready. Here’s what you’ll need to make it:
- You’ll need a large Dutch oven or stock pot. I used my 5.5-quart Le Creuset for this recipe. I wouldn’t recommend using anything smaller than five quarts.
- You’ll also need a medium or large fine-mesh strainer (AKA sieve). We’re going to use it to keep the kale stems separate from the kale leaves as they cook (since the stems need a few extra minutes to soften). We’ll use it again to cook the peas in the water as the pasta cooks. This OXO sieve is a great size.
- You’ll need heat-safe kitchen tongs to quickly and easily scoop the kale leaves out of the boiling water. These Rösle tongs work like a dream.
- For silky-smooth sauce, you’ll need to use a stand blender. I love my Vitamix. If you’re having trouble blending the sauce, just add spoonfuls of hot pasta water as needed, and don’t stop blending until it’s perfectly smooth.
- Fine sea salt
- 1 large bunch (8 ounces) kale*, preferably Tuscan/lacinato but any variety works
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 large cloves garlic, smashed and peeled
- Zest and juice from 1 medium lemon, preferably organic
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, reduce or omit if sensitive to spice
- Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ½ pound (8 ounces) rigatoni or pappardelle or pasta of choice
- 2 cups (8 ounces) fresh or frozen peas
- ¾ cup (2 ounces) coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
- ½ cup or more ricotta cheese, for garnish
- Bring a large pot (5-quart capacity or greater) of heavily salted water to boil. Meanwhile, prepare your kale by slicing or stripping the leaves from the stems (save them). Discard the rough bottom of the stems, then slice the stems into pieces about ¼-inch wide. Place the stem pieces in a fine-mesh sieve.
- When the water is boiling, place the sieve in the water, resting the lip against the top of the pot. Cook the stems for 3 minutes, then remove the sieve and add all of the kale leaves to the pot. Put the sieve back in the water on top of the leaves and cook for 5 minutes (do not drain the water).
- Meanwhile, warm the olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the garlic begins to sizzle, then reduce the heat to low. Cook gently, lightly shimmying the pan and turning the garlic every now and then, until the garlic is soften and turning lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and pour the contents into a stand blender.
- Add the cooked kale stems to the blender when the time’s up. Use tongs to transfer the kale leaves over to the blender (you actually want to bring some of the water with them). Add most of the zest from the lemon, and 1 tablespoon of the juice. Add ¼ teaspoon salt, the red pepper flakes (if using), plus about 10 twists of freshly ground black pepper.
Also read: Fresh Black Bean Burrito Bowl
- Blend until the mixture is completely smooth and silky, adding more spoonfuls of water if necessary to gain traction. Taste, and add more salt, pepper or pepper flakes, and/or another tablespoon of lemon if desired. We want it to taste lemony! Set aside.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until al dente according to the package directions, stirring often. Place the peas in the sieve and cook them in the water until they’re warmed throughout, about 1 to 2 minutes if fresh, or 2 to 3 minutes if frozen. Set the peas aside.
- Before draining the pasta, scoop out about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water with a heat-safe measuring cup. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot. Pour in the green sauce, about ¾ of the Parmesan and the peas, and add a small splash of the reserved cooking water (not the end of the world if you forgot it). Stir gently until the pasta is well coated and bright green, adding another splash or two of pasta water to loosen the sauce and make it almost creamy.
- Divide into bowls immediately. Top each with a sprinkle of the remaining Parmesan, a few dollops of ricotta, and a sprinkle of lemon zest and red pepper flakes (both optional). Finish the bowls with a light drizzle of olive oil. Enjoy! Leftovers will keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator, covered (technically, they’ll last up to 4, but the flavor degrades as time goes on).