Okay, so this sounds pretty fancy. But it's also pretty simple. And delicious. And healthy!
If you visit this site a lot, it will become clear that I love pesto. I've never tried any variation of the stuff that I didn't find immensely pleasing. I discovered pesto years ago while working at a fine dining establishment as a server. My knowledge of food at that time was pretty limited and my palate was not nearly as sophisticated as it has become but I was hooked with the first taste. The aromatic, bold flavor just won me over. It would be awhile before I started making my own but once I did, I was shocked at how pricey pine nuts (a traditional pesto indredient) could be. To save money I started experimenting with other nuts and was delighted to find that almonds, pecans and walnuts all yield a pretty tasty pesto.
This pesto was born as I was trying to think of an interesting way to use kale that everyone in the house might actually eat. My older daughter is by far the pickiest eater in our home, so I sort of talked this pesto up a bit and then included her in the preparation. Another goal with this recipe was to make something that would be light but satisfying for a warm Spring evening meal. Lots of lemon juice and some roasted garlic along with toasted almonds as the nut component really pulled the pesto together. I did opt for some freshly grated parmesan cheese (another traditional pesto component) but nutritional yeast would work fine, too, if you want a 100% plant-based pesto. the creamy component to this pesto is a very simple cashew cream that I added at the very end of the pesto prep.
Don't get overwhelmed here. The pesto and cashew cream can be made in advance and kept in the fridge for up to two days and even if you make it all on the same day, with just a bit of time management, the whole thing, pasta and all comes together in about 30 minutes, aside from the cashew cream, which does need to be prepped at least 2 hours ahead of time so the cashews can soak.
Here is how my process went. Early in the day, I soaked my cashews. As dinner time neared, I preheated my oven for the toasted almonds. While the oven preheated, I made the cashew cream and stuck it in the fridge to thicken up a bit. As the nuts toasted up, I started adding the other pesto ingredients into the food processor and got some water on to boil. Once the nuts were done, I increased the oven temp for the roasted garlic and asparagus. I prepped those and put into the oven. I set the timer because the asparagus would need to come out first while the garlic finished up. Once the water was boiling, in went the pasta and it cooked about 5-6 minutes, to al dente. While the pasta and asparagus cooked, I started processing the pesto, except for the almonds, roasted garlic and cashew cream. Once the garlic was done, I let it cool a bit then added it to the food processor, incorporated then added the almonds and finally, the cashew cream. I reserved a couple ladels of the pasta cooking liquid and drained the rest. I tossed the pasta with the creamy pesto, and some of the pasta liquid, added the asparagus and dinner was ready. Seriously, 30 minutes.
One word of warning--I usually cook a meal to have enough for two dinners and possibly lunch the third day. Cook as much pasta as you need and if you have leftover pesto, you can freeze it in ice cube trays then store in a freezer bag for up to a month in the freezer. Just thaw in the fridge or at room temperature before using.
I used a whole grain thin spaghetti because that's what I had on hand but any pasta you like will work. For pesto, penne and rotini work really well because the pesto finds it's way into all those little nooks and crannies for amazing flavor in every tiny morsel! A really great bonus with this dish is that the leftovers make an amazing cold pasta salad for lunch! Just add some halved cherry tomatoes and a bit of your favorite vinaigrette and suddenly one recipe gives birth to a second. I just love it when that happens!
Pasta with Creamy Lemon and Kale Roasted Garlic Pesto and Roasted Asparagus (Prep/Cook Time: 30 minutes Serves 8-12, depending on serving size*)
6 heaping cups fresh kale, leaves torn
2/3 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves, torn
4 medium cloves roasted garlic
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
4-5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
A dash of allspice or a bit of fresh nutmeg(optional but recommended as it works really well with the kale)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese or nutritional yeast***
1/2 cup cashew cream
1 bunch of oven-roasted asparagus
Cooked pasta and 1-2 ladels of reserved pasta cooking liquid
1. Add all of the pesto ingredients, except the almonds and cashew cream into the bowl of a food processor. Process until the kale is finely chopped and everything is mixed together well.
2. Add the toasted almonds and process until they are well incorporated. Don't over-process here--we don't want some weird kale almond butter!
3. Add the cashew cream and pulse until you get mixture that is nice and creamy and beautifully green.
4. Toss the pasta with the pesto, using the reserved pasta cooking liquid to thin out the pesto as needed. Add the asparagus and enjoy! Lefotovers will keep in the fridge for up to two days and make a great cold pasta salad!
*You can control the yield by using only the amount of pasta you need. I used a whole box so that we'd have plenty of leftovers. Not cooking dinner each night frees up time for recipe development:)
**Any nut will work here, except for peanuts. Trust me--save your peanut pesto ideas for an Asian dish!
***I will admit that I am not a huge fan of nutritional yeast. When I use it, I almost always use less than what I would use of any cheese. Here, I'd probably use no more than 1/4 cup, maybe less but use according to your own taste.